All about the Braves and baseball events.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Early Christmas Present For The Braves And Yankees

OF Melky Cabrera (.274/.336/.416, 540 PA, 28 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 99 OPS+)
LRP Mike Dunn (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 2.000 WHIP, 4 G, 4 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5/5 K/BB)
RSP Arodys Vizcaino (2-4, 2.13 ERA, 1.157 WHIP, 10 GS, 42 1/3 IP, 34 H, 18 R, 10 ER, 52/15 K/BB in A-SS Staten Island)

Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, 32 GS, 219 1/3 IP, 181 H, 75 R, 70 ER, 238/44 K/BB)
LRP Boone Logan (1-1, 5.19 ERA, 1.731 WHIP, 20 G, 17 1/3 IP, 21 H, 12 R, 10 ER, 10/9 K/BB)

The plan at the Winter Meetings failed, so Frank Wren and the Braves had to settle for Plan B.

With the Braves unable to move Derek Lowe due to salary concerns, the team opted to trade ace starter Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for outfielder Melky Cabrera, reliever Mike Dunn and top starting pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino. The Braves also sent reliever Boone Logan in the deal. Both Vazquez and Logan came to the Braves in a winter deal with the White Sox last year.

A lot of people have already said and will continue to say that this trade was horrible for the Braves. The common refrain is to boil it down to two players. Thus, it becomes: Atlanta traded the ace of their staff the previous season for an outfielder that isn't even particularly good. Of course, the picture above is not that of Cabrera; it's of Vizcaino. I'll explain why later.

First, there is an important thing to establish:

The trade is not as bad as it looks.

The Braves still have a potentially formidable starting rotation. Tommy Hanson will be entering his first full major league season of starting. Tim Hudson should be healthy, Jair Jurrjens should perform around what he accomplished in 2009, and Kenshin Kawakami will look to improve on his respectable rookie season.

The wild card here may be starting pitcher Derek Lowe. He'll want to improve on some of his worst statistics from last season, including an NL-high 232 hits allowed and a 1.515 WHIP, his worst WHIP since the 2004 season, and a career-worst 88 Adjusted ERA+. Some may see it as a problem that Lowe was unhappy with the idea of being traded because of his contract. However, with Vazquez gone, Lowe's spot in the rotation is secure and he can lose it only by getting hurt or having so many bad starts that Braves manager Bobby Cox moves him to the bullpen and inserts long reliever Kris Medlen in the starting role.

The only player the Braves netted in the trade that has a chance of making the team next season is Melky Cabrera. The outfielder may even be the regular left fielder next season, replacing Garret Anderson. But, the problem is that Cabrera usually provides the production of last year's version of Garret Anderson:

Cabrera, 2009: 540 PA, .274/.336/.416, 28 2B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 99 OPS+
Anderson, 2009: 534 PA, .268/.303/.401, 27 2B, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 86 OPS+

Essentially, this means that the Braves are back to square one when it comes to their outfield production. The only player that can improve it right now is top prospect Jason Heyward.

The first pitcher obtained in the trade are a young left-handed reliever who wasn't particularly good in limited major-league action last year, but he has a live fastball (98 miles an hour tops) and a hard slider (90 miles an hour). I guess he should be a better left-handed live arm than, say, Jeff Ridgway.

However, the crown jewel in the haul is starting pitcher Arodys Vizcaino. Formerly the top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization and third overall, the soon-to-be 19-year old righthander has a huge heater (98 miles an hour tops that he can consistently throw) and a plus curve and changeup. As mentioned above, he posted a 2.13 ERA in 10 starts with a 52/15 K/BB ratio in 45 1/3 innings. The Braves may very well have found a new Neftali Feliz-type prospect to replace the fireballing reliever they traded to Texas more than two years ago.


While composing this post, which took me the better part of the day, Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution decided that the trade meant the Braves are more concerned about the bottom line than winning baseball games.

The Braves just traded the man who might well have been their Opening Day starting pitcher for an outfielder who might not start on Opening Day. Think about that.
Oh, he'll start on Opening Day. As it stands right now, his only competition is Matt Diaz, since Nate McLouth is in center field and mega-prospect Jason Heyward virtually has the right field job all to himself.

Think also about this: The Braves just traded a man who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting because he was making too much money. And here’s how much Javier Vazquez is scheduled to make in 2010 — $11.5 million. That’s not even half what CC Sabathia, his new Yankee teammate, will earn.
The Braves traded Javier Vazquez only because they couldn't find any takers for Derek Lowe. The only other option was Vazquez. Also, I don't particularly see the point in mentioning what Sabathia makes. All that says is the Yankees have big wallets.

And that tells us all we need know about the Braves.
Does it?

They keep making noises about contending for division titles, but it’s just noise. They can’t afford to do real business any longer.
"Real business", huh? Does real business involve, oh, I don't know... utilizing the resources available to you as best as you can? Isn't that what the Braves are doing?

From the day the 2009 season ended they were looking to dump a starting pitcher, ostensibly to add a power hitter, but Melky Cabrera isn’t a power hitter.
No, he's not. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, he's not any more better than Garret Anderson.

He was the eighth-best position player on the Yankees. He might not beat out Nate McLouth in center field here. He might wind up in a platoon. And he’s what the Braves got for the man who was their best pitcher last season.
Cabrera isn't supposed to beat McLouth out for center field. It's natural to believe that Cabrera will be in a platoon with Diaz in left field; in fact, that's what I expect.

The Braves got Cabrera and two pitchers. It's so easy to forget that when you want to focus on the most recognizable names.

“A perfect fit,” Frank Wren called Cabrera, speaking on a teleconference Tuesday, but the only thing perfect about this trade was how completely it detonates the Braves’ claim to being serious players. You don’t trade an ace unless you get a big bopper in return. The Braves got a guy who hit 13 home runs with 68 RBIs last season.
Yeah, you usually trade aces for prospects. I can't even remember the last time that an ace was traded for a slugger. That just doesn't happen in today's baseball world.

Yes, there’s more to the trade than Cabrera. Mike Dunn should help in the bullpen and Arodys Vizcaino is a young power arm, but the cold truth is that the Braves just played what they deemed their trump card — a surplus of starting pitching — without improving their run production one whit.
All Vizcaino is to Bradley is "a young power arm". There's something to be said about that; it tells me he doesn't understand just how good of a prospect he is to the organization. I truly believe Vizcaino partially makes up for trading Neftali Feliz to Texas.

The Braves actually DID improve their run production one whit. Cabrera is an improvement on Garret Anderson when it comes to getting on base. A whit's improvement.

And don’t fool yourselves: That $11.5 million they saved on Vazquez won’t allow them to splurge on Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Those guys are out of price range, out of sight.
Actually, it'll be around $8.5 million because Cabrera is due to make about $3 million in arbitration. Besides, who says the Braves have to go after an outfielder with that extra money? They could easily sign one of the free-agent first basemen now. Candidates include Troy Glaus, Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or even Adam LaRoche. A full season of better first-base power (Casey Kotchman slugged just .409 mostly during the first half of the year) should help the Braves.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to make a deal like this,” Wren said. Then this: “We’ve been focused on [finding a run producer] all offseason, and we were waiting on the right match. And we’re still waiting.”
Well, obviously that means that he's going to try another trade avenue. If Bay and Holliday are off-limits, that means Wren's going to go back to the trade market.

But Vazquez is gone. Can’t trade him twice. And the Braves can’t trade Derek Lowe because they’re down to five starters. So the best that can be reasonably hoped is that they find a Marlon Byrd or a Xavier Nady or — knowing as we do that the Braves love recycling old favorites — a Mark DeRosa or a Jermaine Dye.
Marlon Byrd - NO. He'll wilt outside of The Ballpark in Arlington.
Xavier Nady - He'll be a cheap first base option because he's coming off surgery, but he wouldn't be that good.
Mark DeRosa - He can't exactly play first base or left field on a regular basis.
Jermaine Dye - I would actually love to see him play first base.

Except none of those players will make them better in the way that losing Vazquez makes them worse.
Losing Vazquez actually doesn't make the team that much worse. The rotation goes from this:

1. Vazquez
2. Jurrjens
3. Hanson
4. Lowe
5. Kawakami

to this

1. Jurrjens
2. Hanson
3. Hudson
4. Kawakami
5. Lowe

It won't necessarily be in that order, but it's still not a drastic step down. Jurrjens or Hanson could very easily step into the vacuum created by Vazquez's absence and Tim Hudson takes the "vacant" spot. Since Lowe and Kawakami should improve from their previous seasons, the mystery player becomes Tim Hudson. That's a good luxury the Braves still have.

As someone who has defended Wren in the past, I have to say I’m stumped. Obviously the Braves’ salary constraints are worse than we’d been led to believe if they had to make this sort of deal so soon — Santa Claus hasn’t yet come and Javier Vazquez has left the building — but even more puzzling is Wren’s contention that this enabled him “to improve our club.” Maybe it improves it in 2012, when Vizcaino is ready to join Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. But the way the Braves operate those pitchers will have been sold off by then.
Bad joke if you're joking, pure idiocy if you're not, Mr. Bradley. Trading Hanson and Jurrjens in their cheap arbitration years. Please.

Nothing about this offseason suggests that the new Braves are any better than the ones who finished third in the NL East. Is Billy Wagner an upgrade over Rafael Soriano? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is Takashi Saito better than Mike Gonzalez? No. (But he’s cheaper. And also older.) Is the new first baseman … oh, wait. They don’t yet have a new first baseman.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Wagner and Saito being "older" than Soriano and Gonzalez. This is simply a symptom of what many baseball organizations see as the proper way to build a baseball team. Closers and set-up men go through teams like a hot potato in some cases.

When it comes to first base, there's this guy that complicates things a little and his name is Freddie Freeman. The Braves have to walk a fine line with their second-best prospect. They don't want to sign someone to a big contract and block him, but they also want someone for "insurance" in case Freeman has a hard time advancing past Mississippi.

For all this motion — Wren is forever in a hurry — the Braves will enter January 2010 a lesser team than in September 2009. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. But that is, sad to say, the way it works here, where $11.5 million for a big-time pitcher is considered too much, where the drive to win is trumped by the need to scrimp.
If the season started in January, I might share your concerns displayed in the first sentence. Also, just because an ace was traded for a couple of prospects and someone who isn't particularly helpful doesn't mean the Braves are "scrimping". This is only part of Wren's gameplan. He knows that the Braves still need a first baseman and/or someone who can actually hit for power. This isn't the end of the off-season, this isn't the time to be declaring the Braves' demise in the 2010 NL East race, and it is certainly not the time to call this trade a symptom of penny-pinching.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dumping On The Rays: Braves Trade Soriano For Chavez

RCP Rafael Soriano (75 2/3 IP, 53 H, 23 ER, 27 BB, 102 K)

RRP Jesse Chavez (67 1/3 IP, 69 H, 30 ER, 22 BB, 47 K)

The monkey wrench has been pulled out of the works.

According to Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times, the Braves agreed to trade former closer Rafael Soriano to the Tampa Bay Rays for relief pitcher Jesse Chavez. The medical records and other things were examined and the trade will be announced Friday.

Soriano pitched in the closer's role for most of the 2009 season. He was 27-31 in save opportunities while garnering a less-than-sparkling 1-6 record. The Dominican, who thrives on his fastball and slider, held opponents last season to a .194 batting average and a career high in strikeouts (12.1 K/9). The most lasting impression of his final year may be a couple of key blown saves:

  • August 6 at Los Angeles: With the Braves leading 4-2, Soriano allowed an infield single to Juan Pierre, a groundball single to right field to Rafael Furcal and a game-ending home run to Andre Ethier.
  • September 9 at Houston: Soriano took the hill for Tommy Hanson, who pitched eight innings of shutout ball. Michael Bourn struck out swinging, but then allowed a single to Kazuo Matsui and a double to Lance Berkman. Carlos Lee was intentionally walked, but Miguel Tejada singled up the middle to win the game for the Astros.
Regardless, Soriano stabilizes the Rays' closing situation; he should inherit the role from J. P. Howell.

Jesse Chavez, who has been shuffled through the Rangers and Pirates systems, is known for a live fastball that can reach 95 miles and hour and has a plus curve and change-up. However, he usually has trouble locating the pitches for strikes. Last season, Chavez had his first taste of extended action in the majors. The fact that he proved he can pitch in 73 games seems promising; that means that he can handle a potential heavy workload in a Braves bullpen used by Bobby Cox.

Because of the nature of the situation, this trade amounted to a salary dump. The Braves had to get rid of Soriano because he accepted arbitration. As such, the reliever was due to make about $7 million with a slight raise in arbitration. The Braves needed that money to pursue a first baseman and outfielder. Thus, he couldn't be peddled off for much because the Braves had nearly zero leverage. The fact the Braves were able to get Chavez without having to pay any of his 2010 salary was a small miracle in and of itself.

EDIT: Frankly, when push comes to shove, I could have cared less who the Braves got back from the Rays in this trade. I hope that Sanchez has the talent to continue his career in the Braves system, but the only thing I cared about was getting rid of Soriano. That objective was accomplished. Bring on the rest of the off-season!

SECOND EDIT: Added title

Photo by AP's Gene J. Puskar

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Change Of Plans: Soriano Accepts Arbitration

RRP Rafael Soriano
(accepts arbitration)

Rafael Soriano unwittingly threw a monkey wrench into the Braves' early off-season plans by accepting arbitration before the midnight deadline at the first day of Major League Baseball's winter meetings.

Soriano is expected to garner about $7-8 million in salary for next season. That's a lucrative deal on the money side for him, but with newcomers Wagner and Saito, along with incumbents Moylan and O'Flaherty, the bullpen just got that much more crowded.

While this forces Braves general manager Frank Wren to look more heavily into trading Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez, the main objectives of getting a left fielder and first baseman could still be obtained.

EDIT: Photo by Paul Spinelli of Getty Images

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Kyuuentoushu Getto!: Braves Sign Saito To Set Up Wagner

RCP Takashi Saito

Just a day after announcing the signing of Billy Wagner, the Braves completed most of their bullpen upheaval by bringing in another veteran fireballer.

Atlanta came to terms with former Dodgers closer and Red Sox set-up man Takashi Saito on a one-year contract worth $3 million.

Two things are interesting about this signing: the Braves have gotten significantly older in their set-up and closer position. Gonzalez and Soriano will be 32 and 30 next season and Wagner and Saito will be 38 and 40 years old.

Another interesting thing is that Atlanta basically completed their bullpen shopping within two days. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before concerning the Braves. The plan seems to be to make sure that Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano decline arbitration and go on to sign with other ballclubs. It makes sense, after all; why should Soriano or Gonzalez stay with Atlanta another season when they could easily get millions more elsewhere to be a full-time closer?

EDIT: Photo by Richard Hartog of the Los Angeles Times

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ball Is Rolling Now; Billy Wagner Joins The Fold

Okay, let's get the laziness out of the way first:

RSP Tim Hudson (three-year extension)

Done. Now for the recent news:

LCP Billy Wagner

Free agent closer Billy Wagner signs a potential multi-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. The deal is worth $7 million for the first year and and includes a club option for the 2011 season worth $6.5 million if Wagner finishes 50 games in the 2010 season.

Wagner spent time with the Mets and Red Sox last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. The closer pitched 17 games in a relief role (15 2/3 innings) and allowed just three earned runs and eight hits, striking out 26 batters.

With this deal, the Braves have set themselves up to reap the benefits of former closers Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano signing with other teams. Because the two relievers are Type A free agents, the Braves are set to obtain the allotted draft picks of the teams that sign their former closers.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mark Bradley Gets Into The Act

The act, of course, is making silly (sometimes stupid) statements about baseball. Sure, there's a lot of them that go around; this is especially true on the Internet. I've made my share of stupid statements on message boards and the like (who hasn't?).

Mark Bradley is another long-time sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Unfortunately, he's prone to writing a lot of bad articles. Some would call them articles that just stir the pudding and nothing more. This one, however, is just a bad idea: With Tim Hudson back in the Braves rotation, the team should move Tommy Hanson to the closer role.
I’m just throwing it out there, OK? So don’t all scream at once. (If you do choose to scream, please take turns.)
When you're just "throwing something out there", that basically means you shouldn't be writing the article in the first place. All us writers struggle with subjects on occasion. I guess when you're paid to write for a living, you have to write things, even if they're no good.

Wow, all that and I haven't even gotten to Bradley's idea.
So here goes:
Thanks for getting the ball rolling again, Mark. :)
With the re-signing of Tim Hudson, the Braves have six starting pitchers under contract for 2010. The baseball truism holds that a team can never have too much pitching, but this one just might.
At the present moment, this is true. While Tim Hudson's contract hasn't been extended yet but will be soon, we can pretty much pencil him in the Braves' 2010 rotation.

The conventional wisdom among Braves fans seems to be that one of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez or Kenshin Kawakami is going to be traded to eliminate the surplus of starters:
  • Derek Lowe, the Braves' top free-agent acquisition in the 2008-09 off-season, endured one of the worst seasons in his career. He won 15 of his 34 starts, but he allowed hits by the bushel (232 hits allowed led the National League), allowed 101 earned runs (his most since 2004), and had a Braves rotation worst 1.515 WHIP, his worst showing there also since his 2004 campaign. As if that wasn't bad enough, the contract Lowe signed the previous off-season owes him $15 million a year for the next three seasons. You'll find a lot of happy Braves fans if general manager Frank Wren can find some way to get a team to take Lowe.
  • Javier Vazquez was the Braves' second big pitching acquisition; he was acquired in a deal that sent four prospects to the White Sox and also brought in lefty reliever Boone Logan. Vazquez went on to have a season to remember with Atlanta, finishing with career lows in WHIP (1.026) and ERA (2.87, 75 runs/ 70 earned runs allowed). Vazquez, though, is a valuable trade piece because he's coming off a career year and he has one year remaining on his current contract that will pay him $11 million next season.
  • Kenshin Kawakami, the Braves' first Japanese player, had a turbulent year, but finally settled into his role (7-10 in 25 starts, 3.97 ERA, 69 runs / 63 earned runs allowed). He was moved to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for Tim Hudson and accumulated two more losses and the first save of his professional career there. He's speculated to be a trade piece because of his inconsistency.
The obvious solution would be to make Kenshin Kawakami a reliever, except for a couple of things: He makes too much money (around $8 million) to slot into middle relief and he generates too many baserunners to close.
Kawakami is slated to make $8.667 million next season. That's $6.667 million base salary and a $2 million signing bonus that will be paid next year.

I've used that same kind of argument before, in regards to where a player is placed based upon how much money he makes. However, I don't think this would apply to Kawakami if he was shifted to close. In fact, I'd dare to say that if his overall stats hold up, he'd be about as good a closer as Francisco Rodriguez was last year:

Kawakami: 156 1/3 IP, 8.8 H/9, 3.9 BB/9, 6.0 SO/9, 1.343 WHIP
Rodriguez: 68 IP, 6.8 H/9, 5.0 BB/9, 9.7 SO/9, 1.309 WHIP


Okay, maybe Kawakami would be a closer in the Dan Kolb mold; he doesn't strike out enough people. Still, the hits and walks together match up reasonably well.
So ... what about this?
Tommy Hanson as closer.
*cue thousands of Braves fans from all over the Internet screaming at their computer screens*
I know, I know. Would any organization in its right mind redeploy its best pitching prospect in a generation so soon? And the answer would ordinarily be a resounding “Heck, no!’
You're right! And the article should end right here because it's true!

Wait, he said "ordinarily"...
Except that one organization has done pretty well with a redeployed starter as its closer.
All right, I'll bite. What organization turned their can't-miss starting pitching prospect into a closer?
The organization: The Boston Red Sox. The starter-turned-closer: Jonathan Papelbon.

Papelbon worked in 58 minor-league games, starting 48 of them. But then the Red Sox needed a closer to replace Keith Foulke and he got reassigned. And he has been, in the main, great — 151 saves over four seasons.
Okay, this requires a little perspective:

According to the 2005 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Papbelon had closed before in college ball, doing so for Mississippi State University. The Red Sox decided to convert him to starting pitching after picking him in the 2003 draft. He started the conversion with Lowell in the New York-Penn League in 2003 and broke out the next year at Sarasota (12-7, 129 2/3 IP, 1.030 WHIP, 153 K). He continued as a starter into the 2005 season, starting his Boston Red Sox career with three starts and then was moved into the bullpen as a middle reliever and setup man. He wasn't inserted into the closer's role until the 2006 season.

Hanson has had some relief experience in the pros, but it consists of five games at Danville in his first pro season (2006) and one game in relief with the Rome Braves the next year.

So Bradley is basically asking for Hanson to convert to being a closer under Bobby Cox, who has accrued a reputation recently for overusing important relievers (some would blame Gonzalez, Moylan and Soriano's recent injuries on him).

Think of it this way: The Braves have roughly $68 million sunk into nine players (the six starting pitchers plus Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Nate McLouth). Their payroll last season was $96 million. So that leaves $38 million to spend on 16 roster spots, and the Braves at the moment have no first baseman — Adam LaRoche is a free agent — no proven corner outfielder (Jason Heyward looks good but hasn’t yet had a big-league at-bat) and no closer.
Most of the 16 roster spots are going to be spent on small contracts for Yunel Escobar, Martin Prado, Matt Diaz, Jair Jurrjens and others, so the number is going to be a smaller number than $38 million. It still remains to be seen whether or not the payroll is going to increase for 2010 (my guess is that it will stay the same), which makes that number a little more suspect.

I'd wager to say that Matt Diaz is a "proven" corner outfielder, even in a part-time role. Three seasons out of four with the team with an OPS+ above 110 with more than 300 PAs each of those years is proven to me. But I guess Bradley wants full-time players like McLouth to patrol the field. I don't blame him for not trusting Heyward since he hasn't set foot on a field in an Atlanta Braves uniform yet. Like Hanson last season, I think Heyward would quickly prove that he belongs in Atlanta.

The reason the Braves have no closers is that both of their "proven" closers, Mike Gonzalez (10 saves) and Rafael Soriano (27 saves) are free agents.

Rather than spend $5 million to re-up Rafael Soriano or Mike Gonzalez, neither of whom is among the game’s 10 best relievers, or spend even more on someone who is among the 10 best, mightn’t it be prudent, both philosophically and fiscally, to give Hanson a look? He has the stuff to do it, and he has the temperament.
Well, I'd certainly love to re-up Soriano AND Gonzalez for $5 million each; Soriano earned $6.1 million in 2009 and Gonzalez got $3.45 million.

As for Bradley's assertion, there are two problems with it. The first:

  • A reliever does not have to be one of the "ten best relievers" to be a good closer. I would like to know who these eight or nine pitchers are that Bradley thinks are better than Gonzalez (10.9 K/9 in 74 1/3 IP) or Soriano (12.1 K/9 in 75 2/3 IP) to disqualify them from continued closer-dom with the Braves. In the eleven games combined that Gonzalez and Soriano blew saves, the Braves had a record of 6-5.

The funny thing is, when I look at the list of potential free agent relievers on Cot's Baseball Contracts right now, I think that Gonzalez and Soriano are the best relievers of the bunch.

The next:

  • It may be prudent fiscally (it sounds more like being cheap to me), but why is it exactly prudent philosophically to plug in a starting pitcher who just turned in the best rookie season by an Atlanta Braves starter (11-4, 1.183 WHIP, 144 ERA+)? Hanson's closest competitor for that title is Craig McMurtry (15-9, 1.300 WHIP, 126 ERA+).

This basically means that Braves fans have seen a performance that's unprecedented in the team's recent history... and Mark Bradley thinks it's a good idea to waste that potential in the bullpen.

OK, OK. I hear you. I’m not saying I’d do it, either. But I’d give it some thought. Because the Braves are going to have to pay big to get the big bat they lacked this summer, and a penny saved is a penny to spend elsewhere. (Get it? Saved? As in relief pitching?)

Har dee har har.

So I've just read an article that explores the possibility of putting Hanson at the closer spot. The article states at two points why it's probably not a good idea, but goes on to say it could be a good idea in the rest of the article.


Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Proctor Signs And Accepts Invite; Phase One of Off-Season Near Completion

RP Scott Proctor

The first domino of the off-season has fallen for the Braves, and a bigger one will fall soon.

Veteran reliever Scott Proctor agreed to a split contract with the Atlanta Braves, which means that he'll receive an invite to spring training. Proctor, who was last signed by the Florida Marlins, spent the 2009 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Proctor, who last pitched in the majors with the Dodgers, came up in the Yankees organization and has been primarily used as a middle reliever and set-up man. If he returns to form, he could fill a similar role with the Braves. It's a good signing for bullpen death assuming Proctor returns

However, the bigger news is that starting pitcher Tim Hudson passed a physical and a three-year contract extension is to be announced some time after the World Series is concluded. This essentially means that there will be a Braves starting pitcher traded at some point this off-season, whether it be Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez or Kenshin Kawakami.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Have To Send Off Mr. Bisher Somehow

Furman Bisher, the poet laureate of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, submitted his last article for his AJC blog on October 14, 2009. A long era has ended for Southern US sports journalism. And what better way to send Mr. Bisher off into a well-deserved retirement than to show him where he's wrong or misleading?

His final AJC-published Braves article of his career: Two bad trades cost the Braves this season.

Well, that's a rather blunt accusation.

If you’re trying to place blame on when the Braves blew their shot at making the playoffs, it wasn’t when Matt Diaz was caught off base trying to score against the Florida Marlins. That would have made the score only 5-5, and the game could still have been won.
That was certainly one of the strangest ways I've ever seen a baseball game end in my life. Diaz must have felt pretty horrible after that ending.

And it wasn’t when Frank Wren was slow to pull the trigger on John Smoltz, leaving him to hook up with the Red Sox.
Ah, yes, the much bally-hooed move that turned out to be a total non-factor for the Braves. Smoltz fell off a cliff statistics wise in the 2009 season, going 3-8 overall with eight starts for the Red Sox and seven starts for the Cardinals. However, if Smoltz had a last hurrah in the playoffs, he did a pretty good one. In Game 3 of the NLDS, John pitched two innings of relief. Despite allowing four hits and a run, he struck out five batters.

Nor when Tom Glavine was turned down, in essence making way for Tommy Hanson in the pitching rotation. Au contraire, a stroke of glowing luck.
I au contraire that last statement: it was a smart move, not a lucky move. The old veteran is busy making rehab starts (4 GS, 16 IP, 17 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO) while a fresh, young pitcher is mowing down International League batters almost at will (11 GS, 66 1/3 IP, 40 H, 11 ER, 17 BB, 90 SO). Who's more likely to do well in the major leagues at that point?

No, it goes way back longer than that. (And with this, I promise never to bring it up again.)
Well, of course you won't bring it up again: you're not going to be making regular blog posts for the AJC anymore. :)

It was when the Braves traded Adam Wainwright — as if he wasn’t enough — and Jason Marquis to the Cardinals for J.D. Drew, the nomadic outfielder. (Eli Marrero, the mysterious Latin also came along, but he created more dilemma than offense.)
Once again, I have to go into defense mode here. If we truly have to blame anyone for this, blame John Schuerholz. It was his bright idea to trade a promising young pitcher who had just completed a fine season in AA Greenville in 2003 (27 GS, 3.37 ERA, 149 2/3 IP, 56 ER, 37 BB, 128 SO) and a pitcher who was pretty much driving Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone crazy at that point to the Cards for Drew. As I've mentioned before in this blog, Marquis had been with the Braves since 2000 and didn't really distinguish himself on the field much. The team shuffled him from the bullpen to the starting rotation constantly, and he only had one season that could even be considered decent (2001, 128 ERA+) with Atlanta.

Drew gave the Braves exactly what they needed (.305/.436/.569, 31 HR, 93 RBI in 645 PAs) for one season, then bolted to the Dodgers for a five-year contract (that he opted out of after two years). Interestingly, Drew hasn't had that many plate appearances in a season before or since.

And what's the deal with calling Marrero a "mysterious Latin"? That almost sounds bigoted. Despite Marrero's poor track record up to that point (only more than 10 home runs in a season, once in his career due to his limited action), he caught lightning in a bottle while platooning with Charles Thomas in left field. Eli gave Atlanta a career best batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.320/.374/.520, 128 OPS+) that season.

And, of course, more recently the disastrous deal that robbed the farm system of five high-grade prospects to Texas for Mark Teixeira, the temporary first baseman.
Yes, we know. Lest we forget, Frank Wren attempted to sign Teixeira to an extension, whether you believe it was an "aggressive campaign", or just "one phone call".

Five, mind you
Yes, I know. People tend to have to pay through the nose for good players.

Starting with...

[A] starting pitcher
Matt Harrison, who, in two seasons with the Rangers, has not lived up to any promise yet. In fact, his recent results have been downright putrid. In two years with the Rangers, Harrison has a career record of 13-8 in 26 starts, but his ERA is sky-high (5.76) and he has only struck out 76 batters in 147 innings. Couple that with a horrid 1.599 WHIP and it means that Harrison is going to have to learn how to pitch very soon.

[A] catcher with long-range value
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who, like Harrison, hasn't really distinguished himself in his young major league career. In three seasons, Saltalamacchia has only gotten worse as he has gone along. He hasn't topped 10 home runs since his rookie year (11 total) and his OPS dipped below .700 in 2009 (.661 in 310 PAs). If Jarrod doesn't watch it, he'll be playing second-fiddle to Taylor Teagarden for a long time. Admittedly, Teagarden also stunk last year, but I think at this point he has more long-term potential than Saltalamacchia does at this point.

[A] shortstop now among the finest in the other league, Elvis Andrus
Considering that Andrus debuted at 20 years old, he had a fine season for a shortstop. While he only had 31 extra base hits, he finished the season with an 85 OPS+ in 541 PAs and of the best UZR/150 ratings in the majors (8.3). Also, he stole 33 bases and was only caught six times. It was a good debut for him.

[A]nd maybe best of them all, the relief pitcher named Neftali Feliz.
Feliz did have a sparkling debut as a long reliever for the Rangers this year (31 IP, 13 H, 6 ER, 8 BB, 39 SO). It remains to be seen whether or not Feliz will continue as a starter or reliever next year for Texas.

Moving on, because re-opening these old wounds is leading up to something...

They patched some of the holes, like signing Garret Anderson, the expression-less outfielder
Heh heh, that's true, he was pretty expression-less. I don't think I saw him crack a smile once.

[T]hen had to turn around and undo the deal that sent Adam LaRoche to the Pirates, by way of the Red Sox. LaRoche had been traded away in exchange for Mike Gonzalez, another of those one-inning bullpen wonders.
One-inning "bullpen wonders" are necessary in today's baseball world. Considering that Gonzalez had all that time out with Tommy John surgery, I think he has done his job quite well for the Braves (125 IP, 97 H, 39 ER, 55 BB, 147 K). And getting Brent Lillibridge in that trade essentially helped the Braves get Javier Vazquez. That is, if you want to go that route in logic...

There’s nothing like what-might-have-been.
There sure isn't, and it leads to silly assertions like what is in this blog post.

Some of the best deals in baseball are those that are never made.
But they end up being made, so there isn't a point in saying this.

It is quite likely that after all those 14 seasons of ringing up those banners over the left-field fence, that the Braves brass was beginning to pant for a return to glory. Their scouts had brought in some glistening prospects, only to have them squandered in disastrous trades.
One of those trades actually helped that streak carry on a couple of years. And that's the second time you've said that these trades are disastrous. Once isn't enough; it has to be said over and over and over...

Nothing worse than the one that sent a pitcher developed under their noses here in the state, in Brunswick, also a tough out at-bat — Wainwright, who hits as well as he pitches.
I'm sure they knew that Wainwright was under their noses. After all, they drafted the guy. As for the hitting, it's a luxury if the pitcher can bat well. But that's it.

A 20-game winner for years down the road.
Aren't we exaggerating just a little bit here? Not only that, this pretty much shows that Bisher is part of the old guard: he measures the success of a pitcher by the amount of wins he gets in a season. What he should be focusing on is that he had a sparkling 1.210 WHIP along with his career-best 2.63 ERA (158 ERA+) and 212 strikeouts in 233 innings.

Marquis, winner of 15 games at Denver — after being passed around to the Cubs and Cardinals — wasn’t popular with the brass. But waste a 15-game winner because he’s quirky?
First, there was no guarantee that he was ever going to become a "15-game winner". His SO/9, which was in the 6.0s during his tenure with Atlanta and his first year with St. Louis, has decreased into the 4.0s for the rest of his career. Not only that, his WHIP hasn't gotten lower than 1.300 at any point in his career. The man is an average pitcher. He's lucky to win as much as he does. Second, if a young kid is attempting to run the show and clashes with the coaches, doesn't that mean it's a good idea to trade him?

Under Wren’s care, some good deals were made, and some not so good. He invested heavily in Kenshin Kawakami, the good-natured Japanese, who has since fallen from grace — into the bullpen.
Only in your mind did Kawakami fall out of grace. While he had a 7-10 record as a starter, he also had eight no-decisions. In fact, you could make an argument that Tim Hudson, overall, pitched as well as Kawakmai would have:

Kawakami: 25 GS, 8.77 H/9, 3.34 BB/9, 6.18 SO/9, 0.95 HR/9
Hudson: 7 GS, 10.42 H/9, 2.76 BB/9, 6.38 SO/9, 0.85 HR/9

Derek Lowe cost even more, and true, he found a way to win 15 times, but his earned-run average outweighed his value, by a bunch. The Braves invested $60 million in him over the long haul. Just how much of this they can afford into future seasons is yet to be seen.
The truth is, no one saw this coming. Not the Braves, not Lowe, not anybody. Forget his ERA (4.67 ERA, 89 ERA+); Lowe's WHIP this year (1.515) rose up to levels that he has only seen once in his career (2004, 1.615). He led the NL in hits allowed (232) and also walked more than 60 batters for the first time since his last year with the Red Sox (2004). All that spelled out a recipe for an up-and-down season.

But, you will have to conclude that one major reason Bobby Cox decided to stick around another season is that he must have felt it a shame to leave with a gold-nugget pitching staff on hand. So there.
I guess we're done fretting about the trades. So there.

As for Matt Diaz, he’s a good card to have in your hand. Not only was he the Braves’ leading hitter, but he has never made a move that he didn’t make with the idea that it might win the game. Yep, he does have a kind of unscripted swing, but you can believe this — he’ll be back, and the Braves will win with him.
... okay, so you end this article with praise for Matt Diaz. I suppose it does end it on a good note, and I guess that you ended the article with a paragraph about Diaz because the article started with a few sentences about a blunder by Diaz. Still, I just can't see how this brings all of the "the Braves shouldn't have made these trades" stuff to a conclusion. I'm still confused.

Oh, well. I was usually confused by Mr. Bisher's Braves stuff. I suppose that didn't have to change. Have a nice retirement, Furman; you've earned it. We'll keep the torch of sports writing burning for you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm Running Out Of Good Titles For Bisher's Stuff

You have to say this about the old man: he can still churn those articles out. It doesn't mean those articles are good, but he can churn them out. His latest foray into the blogdom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website: Brace yourselves, but Braves should put Chipper on market.

Wow, a controversial subject. Not bad for a start. Let's see where Mr. Bisher goes with this:

OK, now it’s the Braves’ turn. After all those seasons of shoring up their roster with blockbuster trades in mid-season, at the expense of raiding the farm system, consider this: (Are you sitting down?) Tell the world they’re putting Chipper Jones on the open market. Anybody out there in need of a third baseman, or, on the American League side, a designated hitter?
Actually, I'm not sure what "blockbuster" deals he's talking about that came at the expense of "raiding the farm system" at the trading deadline. Let's take a look at the Braves' past deadline deals (deals made in July) that involved a significant amount of prospects (two or three):

  • July 31, 1991: Traded Matt Turner (AAA Richmond) and a PTBNL (Earl Sanders, AA Greenville) to the Houston Astros for Jim Clancy
  • July 18, 1993: Traded Melvin Nieves (AAA Richmond), Donnie Elliott (AAA Richmond) and Vince Moore (A+ Durham) to the Padres for Fred McGriff

  • July 30, 1998: Traded David Cortes (AAA Richmond) and Mike Porzio (A+ Danville) to the Rockies for Greg Colbrunn

  • July 31, 1999: Traded Micah Bowie (AAA Richmond), Ruben Quevedo (AAA Richmond) and Joey Nation (A+ Myrtle Beach) to the Cubs for Jose Hernandez and Terry Mulholland

  • July 12, 2000: Traded Bruce Chen (AAA Richmond + MLB Atlanta) and Jimmy Osting (AA Greenville + AAA Richmond) to the Phillies for Andy Ashby

  • July 31, 2000: Traded Trenidad Hubbard (MLB Braves), Fernando Lunar (MLB Braves + AAA Richmond) and Luis Rivera (AAA Richmond) to Baltimore for Gabe Molina and B. J. Surhoff

  • July 31, 2005: Traded Roman Colon (MLB, AA and AAA) and Zach Miner (AA Mississippi) to the Tigers for Kyle Farnsworth

  • July 31, 2007: Traded Elvis Andrus (A+ Myrtle Beach), Matt Harrison (AA Mississippi), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (AA Mississippi and MLB Braves), Beau Jones (A+ Myrtle Beach) and Neftali Feliz (Rookie) to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira and Ron Mahay.
There are many other trades that the Braves did using their prospects. Some of them may even be considered "raiding the farm system", like obtaining Denny Neagle from the Pirates in August of 1997 for four prospects, including Jason Schmidt. Also, there's Bisher's much-maligned trade in the 2003-04 off-season, where the Braves sent Adam Wainwright and Jason Marquis, along with Ray King, to St. Louis for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. However, according to the parameters that I've set, the list above contains the only trades since 1991 where the Braves traded away two or more prospects when dealing in July. Most of them aren't particularly franchise-shattering, so I guess my ultimate point is that Bisher's painting with a broad brush when it comes to deadline deals.

As for there being teams needing third basemen or designated hitters, I'm not quite sure about that. A more accurate question would be: what contending team would need a third baseman or a designated hitter AND be willing to give up two or three top prospects to take on Chipper's below-market, but very high contract?

I can hear all the gulps, and the screeches, and calls for my scalp.
People have called for your scalp for lesser offenses, like implying that the Braves' farm system is dry because there is no immediate help in Lawrenceville (AAA Gwinnett County Braves), and saying that the Braves need to show more patience with Jeff Francoeur because John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were shown that courtesy (or so he says).

First place, forget where you saw this. This is not my choice at all, but considering the direction the Braves have taken the past four years, the lock is running low on sentimentality.
Considering the fact that you wanted to show patience for Francoeur and seemed to support the idea of giving Smoltz and Glavine as much time as they needed to get back into form, I think you were being quite sentimental then. However, I don't blame you for changing your mind.

Sure, Chipper is the face of the Braves. And the voice. He speaks for the team when anyone is looking for an opinion, or reaction to a news event. All of us seek him out, and he responds in his even baritone voice. He never lets you down. So to offer him for trade, hang him out there like a piece of meat for swap. A dreadful thought.
So why spend all those words describing how great Chipper is to the franchise, then say the Braves need to trade him? Get to the point!

But think again.
I'm already thinking of stopping this blog post right now, but I have an obligation to keep going.

He deserves one more chance at a World Series, or postseason play, and he’s not going to get it here.
No, he's not, and he has been vocal about how he has been frustrated with the Braves' inconsistent offense. He's really echoing most of the Braves' fans. It's more of a "I want this team better" frustration, rather than a "I want to get out of here!" frustration.

Also, I don't deny that it would be good feelings-wise to see Chipper get a shot at a World Series with Contending Team X. However, that's not what matters to me as a Braves fan. What I want, if Chipper Jones is traded, is to get two, maybe even three, prospects that can help the Atlanta Braves immediately or as soon as 2010 without compromising or blocking any of our young prospects (Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, etc.).
He just signed a fresh contract, so that much is done, but the front office was rather slow getting around to that. This front office hasn’t been distinguishing itself, anyway.
A little slow in getting around to a contract extension? I'm sure there are a lot of things to do when it comes to that, and you know it. I could care less if the front office is "rather slow" when it comes to those things. The only thing that matters is getting it done, regardless of when it happens.

From that last sentence, I sense the start of one of one of Bisher's patented diatribes. Get your armor on and shields ready. You might need them.
It has been making trades for Gary Sheffield, Mike Hampton, J. D. Drew and Mark Teixeira and shredding the farm system in the process.
It's hard to believe that this one sentence has so many errors in it, but when looked it in context with the last paragraph's sentence, it does.

The Braves have a different front office than the one who made those trades. John Schuerholz made the decisions to import those players; Frank Wren had nothing to do with any of them. I consider him as a different "front office", even with Schuerholz as the president of the team.

Now, as for the players mentioned, two of them didn't cost the Braves much in terms of prospects, which is what Bisher has been complaining about in the first place. Gary Sheffield was obtained from the Dodgers for Brian Jordan, a young pitcher named Odalis Perez who was, I believe, out of prospectdom at the time, and a prospect named Andrew Brown. Sheffield gave the Braves two superb seasons before leaving to sign with the Yankees. In turn, the Braves traded away a league-average outfielder in Jordan, an inconsistent and oft-injured starter who turned in just two above-average seasons since the trade (Perez), and a pitcher who is now retired from baseball after playing two years with the Oakland A's (Brown). That's not a deal that fits Bisher's template.

Mike Hampton was obtained for a remarkably cheap price: reliever Tim Spooneybarger and minor league pitcher Ryan Baker (who never reached the majors) and the Marlins and Rockies pick up the tab for Hampton's astronomical salary for a few years. Hampton did his job for the Braves in the 2 1/2 years that he pitched for them. Now, everyone remembers him for the 2 1/2 years that he DIDN'T pitch for Atlanta, AND the Braves were on the hook for his salary. I think that's why his name is mentioned here.
The Teixeira deal was the most destructive of all, literally re-stocking the Texas Rangers’ roster. Check the standings of the American League West.
I beg to differ. The Rangers don't owe the majority of their resurgence in the AL West to Saltalamacchia, Harrison or Andrus. In fact, only Andrus is producing as expected (.265/.328/.381, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 87 OPS+). Harrison (currently on the DL, 10 games, 4-4, 5.43 ERA, 82 ERA+, 1.559 WHIP) and Saltalamacchia (.247/.297/.388, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 79 OPS+) have little to do with it. Quite frankly, Jarrod's just lucky that Taylor Teagarden stinks; otherwise, he'd be out of a job.

I'd have to say that Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Hank Blalock and even Andruw Jones have more to do with the Rangers occupying first place in the AL West for now.
By bartering Chipper, what the Braves might be able to do is re-stock its own roster with fresh talent.
And we only base that on his name. Chipper still has an injury history and that makes me question what kind of value the Braves could get for him. The Braves won't get any quality major league players for him, that's for certain. They could get two, or even three quality prospects for him, as I mentioned before. The problem here is that the Braves would take a major PR hit if they traded the face of their franchise. Considering the way the FO has been perceived in treating John Smoltz and Tom Glavine by people who aren't even Braves fans, a Chipper Jones trade could be catastrophic.
True, Chipper is 37 years old, but so is Raul Ibanez, the fresh personality who has brought so much to the Phillies’ lineup.
I'm not sure I'd call his personality "fresh". For what it's worth, Ibanez is riding an extremely flukish year (an ungodly 20.6% HR/FB rate that's pretty much impossible to maintain). I'd like to see what he can bring when he has more "normal" stats. Congrats to Ibanez for being so productive right now, though.
And Chipper is a young 37, keeps himself young hunting and ranching on his acreage in Texas. He was the leading hitter in the National League last season, so the years haven’t been weighing heavily on him.
Yes, he has been able to keep up, but if I'm a team that wants to trade for Chipper, my first question would be about his durability. I know that he wants to stay healthy and be out there to play, but sometimes, he just can't be. For years, Chipper's goal has been to play in 150 games. He hasn't played in that many games in five seasons (153 games in 2003). The good thing is that Jones is on pace to play in at least 150 games (He has played in 58 of 67 games so far, so he can play in 153 games maximum).
I don’t know what his contract arrangement may be, whether it includes a non-trade agreement or not. I doubt that he would stand in the way, with the right deal, with the right team.
The right deal is what the Braves want, and what is the right team? What contender needs a DH or third baseman? At this point, it's all conjecture.
He only has to take a look around at what has happened to some of his old Braves pals. John Smoltz, for instance, tired of hemming and hawing and went his own way.
Smoltz went to the Red Sox, who gave him the chance to earn more money. I still contend that the Braves are better off not taking the chance on him.
And Tom Glavine’s rejection has been heavy on the minds of Braves fans lately.
But Tommy Hanson, with each start, has made the pain of Tom Glavine being "mistreated" go away. It's a wonderful feeling to see Hanson do what we think he's capable of doing. He almost makes me say, "Who's Tom Glavine again?"
A deal for Chipper might go a long way toward re-stocking the roster, but it would have to be more productive than a lot of swaps that have been made lately.
A deal for Chipper would only ease Bisher's mind about the "barren" minor league system. The fact remains that even if the Braves obtain quality prospects, the possibility remains that they won't be able to contend.

And what about those recent swaps?

Except for Jair Jurrjens, and to a degree, Omar Infante, those transactions have not been richly productive, including such as Royce Ring, Josh Anderson, Mark Kotsay, Will Ohman, Jeff Ridgway and Mike Gonzalez, and a lot of them are history. Not a pennant-building haul, you might say.


I've had to stare at this paragraph and discuss it with others, but I think I understand what Bisher's trying to say here. He says these are ill-advised trades because, for the most part, they didn't work out, or these players aren't with the team anymore.

What I find very peculiar is the nature of why some of these players are on the list. It's funny how Josh Anderson is mentioned in this list; in an earlier blog post of his, Bisher thought that Anderson was the top leadoff prospect of the Braves due to his penchant for hitting a .300 average . I mentioned in that post that because Anderson can't walk, his production will disappear if he can't hit .300. That's exactly what happened: as of the time I wrote this post, Anderson has a .254/.288/.325 line with just six walks in 133 PAs.

Mark Kotsay was, naturally, part of what some Braves fans called an ill-advised deal that sent Joey Devine and Jamie Richmond to Oakland for the center fielder with back issues. He provided solid production (.289/.340/.418, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 99 OPS+ in 345 PAs), but it certainly wasn't worth giving up Joey Devine for him, even if Devine has been shelved with an elbow injury this year.

While Royce Ring and Jeff Ridgway were part of the parade of LOOGYs until Eric O'Flaherty came along, I question adding Will Ohman and Mike Gonzalez to this list. Those two players have done their jobs with Atlanta. In fact, Will Ohman was one of the Braves' best left-handed relievers since Mike Remlinger. That distinction, though, wasn't hard to obtain; the Braves have had a parade of lefty relievers since Remlinger left.

Mike Gonzalez, though he had to have Tommy John surgery, has performed as expected as Atlanta's closer. Plus, Brent Lillibridge helped net Javier Vazquez, and the 32-year old pitcher could easily be shopped at the trading deadline.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals, Rangers, Rockies and Rays enjoy the fruits of some of the Braves’ misjudgments.
The Rangers may be enjoying the Braves' misjudgements the most, but the Cardinals may not particularly care for the fact that Wainwright is somewhat injury-prone right now (I'm not denying that he's not a good pitcher; he hasn't been able to stay very healthy).

As for the Rockies, I find something wrong with including them. Jason Marquis, as I type this, is leading the National League in wins (9) and has his highest ERA+ in years (123 in 97 IP) at this point in the season. The problem with including him is that the last time Marquis had an ERA this high was in 2001, when he was a 22-year old with Atlanta (128 ERA+ in 129 1/3 innings pitched; also with the benefit of 12 unearned runs). Thus, Bisher seems to imply that to reap the benefits of Marquis' current breakthough, the Braves would have had to hold on to him for eight seasons. There's no telling what would have happened in his career had he stayed here in Atlanta that long.

Plus, what's with mentioning the Rays?... oh, that's right. Willy Aybar, the super-sub that helped the Rays win the 2008 AL pennant. It's wonderful that Aybar was able to get his head on straight and that he was able to be on a pennant-winning ballclub. It's also clear that the Braves sold low on him. The thing is, I'm not at all worried about that trade. Omar Infante was putting up similar OPS numbers to Aybar before his hand was broken (.349/.389/.430 in 97 PAs, to .268/.375/.411 in 152 PAs). Yes, the only difference is batting average, but you can find a quality backup that plays multiple positions if you look hard enough.

Time to make a move while Chipper is still a major commodity.
Why's this sentence even here, given that this follows:

They can’t close the gap left by all those absentees, so skillfully scouted and carefully nurtured. Not that dealing Chipper Jones can come close to making up for them all, but he could wipe out some of the damage, and in the long run, have a good closing run for himself.
That is only if the mystery prospects pan out. The possibility remains that the Braves can trade for the best prospects in the world, and they may not amount to squat.

And again, Chipper having a good closing run for himself is ultimately only good for Chipper Jones. Yes, we will be happy for him if he wins a World Series with another team, but it will be a fleeting happiness; one minute later after we see Chipper celebrating with the new champions of baseball, we'll turn off the TV and stew over how the Braves need to improve themselves so that they will be the ones celebrating on a cold November night.

If the thought of this offends you, let me remind you that this is the team that traded Henry Aaron and Dale Murphy, and allowed Phil Niekro to take a hike, and Smoltz and Glavine to go adrift.
Hank Aaron was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers by his own request. Dale Murphy was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for pennies on the dollar because he told the Braves he wanted to move on. Letting Phil Niekro walk was a true mistake; Pascual Perez fell apart and Craig McMurtry, Ken Dayley and Zane Smith never panned out. Refer to what I said above about Smoltz and Glavine.

There, I’ve said it. And I’m not sorry.
Well, I'm not sorry for what I've said either, Mr. Bisher, so we're even.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Furman Bisher Strikes Yet Again

Like screaming at a wall, I'm here once again to dissect one of the senior sports writer's articles. This time, the premise is...


... that the Braves should show more patience with Jeff Francoeur!

*ba dum pish!*

Sorry, that wasn't supposed to be a joke. Before we delve into Mr. Bisher's article, I'd like to point out Jeff Francoeur's current statistics, after finishing a 1-5 day against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He will be compared with the eight regulars in the Braves' starting lineup, who all lead the team in plate appearances at this point.

203 PA (1st of 8)
.250 AVG (6th of 8)
.271 OBP (8th of 8)
.344 SLG (6th of 8)

It's pretty bad when he's that low in production. Only Kelly Johnson (.247) and Jordan Schafer (.210) are worse in batting average. Schafer (.296) and Garret Anderson (.327) dwarf Francoeur in slugging. That also speaks to how bad the Braves outfield is in general.

Now here are Francoeur's regular stats:

49 G (T1st of 8)
192 AB (1st of 8)
24 R (T2nd of 8)
48 H (T1st of 8)
5 2B (8th of 8)
2 3B (T1st of 8)
3 HR (5th of 8)
23 RBI (3rd of 8)
66 TB (T3rd of 8)
5 BB (8th of 8)
30 SO (2nd of 8)
It seems as if he's one of the better regulars, but that is because Francoeur has played in every game this year. Thus, it's not unusual for him to be leading the team in hits or be one behind the lead in RBIs (Casey Kotchman and Yunel Escobar have 24 RBIs each). With that in mind, let's dive into the world that is Furman Bisher's articles:

These are disheartening days for the Braves. For Jeff Francoeur in particular. For those who came to Turner Field to cheer him, but now who jeer him. When Mark Bowman, of, wrote that this might be a pertinent time to consider locating another employer for him, oh, did that set off a firestorm! A flurry of conjecture.

Trade Jeff Francoeur? Homegrown hero? Onetime Sports Illustrated cover boy? Where did it all go?
In the dustbin of Braves history, right beside Brad Komminsk and Andres Thomas.

Let me take you back to those Camelot days, when the Braves’ roster was plump with bright young prospects. There was a pod of them, all seeming to ripen at the same time. A sort of an informal Boy Scout troop of them, who went to each other’s weddings, and celebrated their togetherness like club members.
Yeah, funny how winning makes everything seem all hunky-dory and buddy-buddy and Knights of the Round Table-y.

I'm sure they were friends, but that only goes so far in them helping their team win ballgames. The Baby Braves days these same days were ones where the Braves were grasping at straws in order to remain in the playoff hunt. This was the final year they managed to grab some. Their young guys all produced at the same time and the Braves rode that to the NL East championship. The pennant was well-earned, and they didn't deserve to be kicked out the playoffs the way they were (Darn you, Chris Burke and the home run I never saw on TV when it was happening).

Cue the "But..." paragraph...

Remember their names, for some are long gone.
AGH! Not now!

Oh, well. Who were those guys?

Francoeur, Brian McCann, Macay McBride, Kelly Johnson, Ryan Langerhans, and two Canadians, Pete Orr and Scott Thorman.
So we have:

  • The Braves' current right fielder
  • The Braves' All-Star catcher
  • A former reliever that wasn't even that good in his rookie season.
  • The Braves' current second baseman.
  • A former outfielder who started out well in a platoon role in his rookie year, but later fizzled out so badly that he was traded twice in a span of a week.
  • A hustling infielder who was playing over his head and it worked for a while; he still has a pro career.
  • A slow-swinging first baseman who couldn't hit anything more than a belt-high fastball and that dashed his dreams of becoming another Adam LaRoche.
Two out of six isn't so bad. Yes, I said two. Moving on...

McBride, traded to the Tigers, is recovering from arm surgery at Toledo.

Orr and Langerhans are working on the Nationals’ farm team at Syracuse.
As they should be; they're both not that good.

Thorman has sort of disappeared from the screen.
Sort of?? The guy's done.

And we all know where McCann, Johnson and Francoeur, the subject of the moment, are,

and of the three, McCann was the only unrated prospect in his early days on the farm. Remember?
Now, why do I feel like I'm being talked down to? Well, whatever the case, the idea that McCann was "unrated" at the time is nonsense. That very year, in 2005, the Baseball America Handbook has McCann rated as the third-best prospect in the Braves organization, ironically behind Francoeur and Andy Marte.

When the Braves offered both McCann and Francoeur long-range contracts last year, McCann took it and is signed through 2012.
And it is money well invested. McCann is well on his way to being a four-time All-Star in his first four full pro seasons and is pretty much the best catcher in the National League.

Francoeur played the odds, and banked on going to the arbitration
table calling his shots. His timing couldn’t have been worse. What followed is the season of remission.
It serves him right, and the Braves were fortunate that he was aiming for more money. Imagine what would have happened if he signed a contract similar to McCann's; Braves fans might have been calling for Jeff's head sooner because he would be getting multiple millions of dollars to suck.

He heard sounds coming from the stands at Turner Field he had never heard before. Boos and taunts, mild at first,
Poor baby.

but for a local favorite who had reaped nothing but adulation through high school at Parkview and two-and-a-half gaudy seasons with the
Gaudy??? If you call two seasons where you have 507 and 477 outs, amounts only leadoff hitters should have, "gaudy", then be my guest.

Where had it all gone?
I told you: in the Braves dustbin of history. See? It's right under my desk. I think I need to make a little more room beside Chief Noc-a-homa right there...

Meanwhile, McCann was harvesting a national following for his bat, and for his backstopping. Most of it. You could steal a base on him, and he was no adagio at blocking low pitches. But he could hit, and so could Ernie Lombardi, whose career wasn’t based on backstopping.
McCann isn't exactly a modern Ernie Lombardi; he has improved in his defensive skills since his rookie year. I daresay he may be improved tenfold since then.


Wait a minute, I thought this article was supposed to be about Jeff Francoeur. Why aren't you talking about him?

But in the case of Francoeur, you ask where did it all go?
No, I ask "Where was it all in the first place?"

Home runs, RBIs, and yes, strikeouts, as well?
I don' think Francoeur's strikeouts have disappeared completely. If it wasn't for Jordan Scahfer, Francoeur would be the team leader.

Last season it seemed the rest of the league had caught up with Francoeur’s habits, and what developed was a bottom-line .239 batting average and a mere 11 home runs. He didn’t strike out as often, but that was because his patience ran low and he swung at anything early and often.
Francoeur's strikeout percentage has actually decreased steadily over his career. He's making more contact, it's just that his swing and approach are so bad that most of his contact results in weak outs.

While the Braves spent all manners of time waiting for two dear old relics to return to their days of pitching glory, patience ran low with Francoeur.
This doesn't make any sense. You can't compare two forty-year old pitchers coming back from injuries to a struggling young outfielder who is (assumingly) healthy and playing.

Besides, they weren't waiting for John Smoltz; they let him walk to the Red Sox because they'd give him more money to not pitch. Also, please don't get me started on how much of a mistake it is to let the "dear, old relic" that is Tom Glavine get a chance to end his career on a good note for his own ego.

Was it because he had taken off to Texas in hope that Rudy Jaramillo, the Rangers’ hitting guru, might help him return to glory? It was furtively done, and true, he also recommended Andruw Jones try the same “cure.” It has worked out better for Andruw.
No, it is not because Francoeur went to Jaramillo for help. In fact, I would wager a lot of Braves fans applauded that move. The problem is that Francoeur is such a poor batter that he can't implement Rudy's teachings. As for Andruw, his career was literally down the crapper, so he did everything he could to get it back. It has paid off for him so far.

Francoeur now finds himself the subject of trade speculation. From hometown hero to hometown trade bait, perish the thought. I can’t see it. His market value has reached GM level.
There's another equally attractive option: designate him for assignment and release him. Let some other team take on the headache of trying to fix him. Let some other organization try to find the potential that once oozed out his ears.

Is there not enough patience to help him work his way through it? Whoever thought it could come to this for Jeff Francoeur.
The Braves suffered through one season of very sub-par production and it seems to be continuing two months into this season. Why continue to work with him when it's clear that he's getting nowhere fast?

(In closing, let me apologize for referring to John Smoltz and Tom Glavine as “relics.” But it takes one to know one.)
At least you know what you are, Mr. Bisher. :)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Furman Bisher Strikes Again

For those of you who don't know, Furman Bisher is the senior waxing poetic journalist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He's 90 years old. While I respect that Mr. Bisher has written much more than I have, and probably ever will, I can still call him out when he's wrong. This is just my way of doing it.

This is an article that Bisher posted on the AJC Blogs Saturday afternoon.

Once upon a time, as fairy tales usually begin, the Braves were a baseball team that was home-bred, carefully incubated in the farm system, and nurtured all the way up to the major league level. There they won championships and pennants and played in the World Series, one of which they won. And they left their names scrolled on the walls of the ball park where they played, and in team and league record books.
I see that we're playing the "generalization game" here. Fine, let's do that.

Many significant Braves players were drafted, brought up through the farm system and contributed to the club's run of 14 straight division titles, five pennants and one wonderful World Series title. We're good here.

Then something began to change after the season of 2005, and the once-flourishing franchise has been groping ever since.
Ah, the cut-off point. The last year the Braves won the NL East title.

Like I said before, many significant Braves players have been drafted, farmed and turned into contributing members of the Atlanta Braves. I think it would be a good idea to list a few:

Tom Glavine
Ron Gant
David Justice
Jeff Blauser
Mark Lemke
Tom Glavine
Steve Avery
Kent Mercker
Mike Stanton
Mark Wohlers
Greg McMichael
Chipper Jones
Javy Lopez
Ryan Klesko
Andruw Jones
Kevin Millwood
Rafael Furcal
Adam LaRoche
Brian McCann
Jeff Francoeur

and others.

Now, the Braves’ “farm” system reaches from Venezuela to Japan. Deals are made, faces change, and only this season have they reached deep into their jeans to play a hand in the free agent rat-race.
This list is a list of other Braves players who had significant contributions to the franchise's run, including two very important players, who are listed first:

John Smoltz
Greg Maddux
Lonnie Smith
Terry Pendleton
Otis Nixon
Sid Bream
Alejandro Pena
Rafael Belliard
Fred McGriff
Marquis Grissom
Denny Neagle
Kenny Lofton
Andres Galarraga
Kerry Ligtenberg
Brian Jordan
Vinny Castilla
Gary Sheffield
Johnny Estrada
J. D. Drew
Kyle Farnsworth

They were all traded for or signed as a free agent. One of the most powerful starting rotations in baseball history, the one of the 1997 Atlanta Braves, was built with the farm (Glavine, Millwood), trades (Smoltz, Neagle) and a free agent signing (Maddux).

A payroll that once was held around the $80-million level, by order of the McScrooge ownership, has now zoomed to about $97 million.
I think he combined "Scrooge" and "McDuck" to get "McScrooge", but how exactly is the Braves ownership a bunch of "McScrooges" if they up the payroll? I guess they could sacrifice some gold coins from their cash vault they regularly dive into for fun.

They even splurged $60 million on Derek Lowe, a 35-year-old they niftily lifted from the Dodgers.
They "niftily" lifted from the Dodgers? Yes, I'm sure it was pretty nifty, but Lowe was Plan B. Plan A was to splurge more on A. J. Burnett, who has been less reliable health-wise than Lowe.

They traded for Javier Vazquez, an $11-million-a-year pitcher
Yes, yes they did, and things have been working out swimmingly for both parties so far.

And then they really hit the high road. They invaded Japan.
How is making a vague World War II backup plan reference hitting the high road?

Kenshin Kawakami is a good-natured 33-year-old pitcher, and I say that without understanding a word he says. When you hire one Japanese player, you get two Japanese. You must have an interpreter, in this case Daichi Takasue, also most accommodating. Any interview is sort of an Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy act. You ask a question, Daiche asks Kenshin, Kenshin replies, Daiche repeats what he said. Kenshin hits well, as pitchers go, and I asked Daiche if he was a good hitter in Japan. Kenshin smiled shyly and in translation, “He wouldn’t want to say. It would look like he’s bragging.”

When I asked him his view on American umpires, he said (so Daiche said), “the plate seems to be narrower over here,” and illustrated with his hands. It does give us a variety we haven’t had in a Braves clubhouse before.
Now that's a very nice tidbit. Kudos for bringing us that, Mr. Bisher.

So far, the Braves have hovered around .500, but I fear they’ve just about found their level. It’s not the pitching; it’s the run-making.
That, I am not disputing.

The best prospect of a leadoff man was traded to Detroit, Josh Anderson, a .300 hitter with base-stealing speed and center field experience in the majors.
Now this, I am disputing. Anderson seems to know how to hit and he does know how to steal bases, but those are his only good points. He can't take a walk and he doesn't have much power at all, despite the fact he led all Braves outfielders in home runs in the second half in 2008 (three). If he goes into a slump, he's not getting on base at all. There's a reason that it only took Oscar Villareal to get him and that the Braves could only get Rudy Darrow for him: he's just not that good.

Jordan Schafer probably would have benefited from at least a half-season in triple-A. He’s not a leadoff type.
I don't really see how Schafer could get that much better in Gwinnett. Besides, a leadoff hitter's job is to get on base and set the table for the next hitters in the lineup. Schafer is leading all rookies in walks (17) and on-base percentage (.407), and that was from the seventh and eighth spots. If he keeps the same approach, he'll be an excellent leadoff hitter. Let's not forget he also has the ability to steal bases.

Josh Anderson is, and he's hitting well in Detroit.
He has a .311 batting average, but he also has three walks in 49 PAs. I repeat: a leadoff hitter's job is to get on base and set the table for the batters to follow. If Anderson isn't hitting, it isn't likely that he's going to get on base. Not to mention that he has been hitting seventh and eighth in the order in Detroit, like Schafer in Atlanta.

There’s a problem at second base right now, but I’m a believer in Kelly Johnson.
As am I. Johnson is a notoriously streaky batter and he's having one of those "bad streaks". Omar Infante is the best option right now and he's certainly handling the job.

They’re suffering the loss of Brian McCann, which nobody has figured into the equation.
I'm not quite sure how "no one" has figured that into an equation because David Ross was signed specifically to back up McCann for a few days at best and to start at worst. If no one figured that into the equation... then I don't know what Bisher is talking about. It could very easily be something I missed.

And Chipper Jones can be handled — just don’t pitch to him.

Got that right.

We saw an illustration while the Cardinals were in town of how a bad deal can draw blood over the years. The Braves didn’t simply trade Adam Wainwright to get J.D. Drew for a year, but they also threw in Jason Marquis, now a $9.8-million starter in Colorado.
They "threw in" Marquis because he wasn't doing particularly well in Atlanta (he had been demoted to the pen in 2003), and he he didn't do particularly well after he was traded. He was up-and-down in St. Louis, finishing as high as 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA (but with a rather high 1.416 WHIP) in 2004 and as low as a 14-16 record with a horrendous 6.02 ERA and 1.523 WHIP im 2007. He at least became an average pitcher with the Cubs (101 and 99 ERA+ those two years) and is starting out well in Colorado. The salary he's making now with the Rockies really doesn't have anything to do with it.
That deal will be haunting this team for years, as will the deal that sent five golden talents to Texas for a season of Mark Teixeira — who, as a Yankee, is currently hitting more than l00 points below Casey Kotchman.
The St. Louis-Atlanta deal will haunt the Braves for years only because of Adam Wainwright. And then, there's that trade again, with Ron Mahay conveniently forgotten. I guess left-handed relievers really are a faceless commodity.

Plus, we all know the reason that Teixeira is hitting 100 points below Kotchman is that he's a habitual slow starter.
Three are on the Rangers roster
Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for those who don't know. Andrus has cooled off after a hot start and is hitting .254/.290/.390 in 64 PAs with Texas. Matt Harrison was hit hit hard in his first four games this year (1-2, with a 7.89 ERA and 2.077 WHIP). Saltalmacchia is about where he should be, batting .276/.300/.448 with two homers.
and a fourth, pitcher Neftali Feliz, may be the best of them all, Bobby Cox said.
He probably is.
Right now he’s tuning up on the Oklahoma City farm.
However, he's looking pretty mortal right now: 1-1, 4.30 ERA, 14 K, 2.114 WHIP in 14 2/3 innings. That's sure to change, of course, because Feliz is very talented. However, that's one ugly-looking tune-up.
Gone are the rich old farm days that gave us John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Mercker, Stanton, Wohlers, Lemke, Blauser, Chipper … a bumper crop of farm products. Just pick up the phone and call Richmond. Now, it’s just a matter of calling a cab in Lawrenceville — if there’s any help there to be called for.
Mr. Bisher, with all due respect, you finish way off-base. Just because there's no immediate help in Lawrenceville (the Class AAA Gwinnett County Braves) other than Tommy Hanson doesn't mean the farm system isn't rich anymore. On the contrary, the Braves farm system is very rich in potential. It's just mainly in the low levels, like how the farm system was back in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The Braves regularly mine their farm system for talent and have reaped the benefits lately with Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur (sans 2006 and 2008). Baseball America recognized them as having five Top 100 Prospects:

Tommy Hanson (#4) - AAA Gwinnett
Jason Heyward (#5) - A+ Myrtle Beach
Jordan Schafer (#42) - Atlanta Braves
Gorkys Hernandez (#62) - AA Mississippi
Freddie Freeman (#87) - A+ Myrtle Beach

This isn't counting players like Kris Medlen, who is off to a 3-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.89 WHIP start wtih Gwinnett, and Jeff Locke and Cole Rohrbough at Myrtle Beach. If you look hard enough in farm systems, you can find potential jewels. The Braves have plenty of gold that can shine.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Redbirds Take Two of Three In Atlanta


W - Joel Piniero (4-0)
L - Jair Jurrjens (2-2)
S - Ryan Franklin (6)


P Joel Piniero, St. Louis - 6 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO, W; 0-1, BB, R

CF Rick Ankiel, St. Louis - 2-4, GA 1B, 2 RBI

P Jair Jurrjnes, Atlanta - 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO, L


W - Peter Moylan (1-1)
L - Kyle McClellan (1-1)
S - Mike Gonzalez (3)

P Jo-Jo Reyes, Atlanta - 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO

LF Matt Diaz, Atlanta - 1-4, GA 1B, RBI

P Kyle Lohse, St. Louis - 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 SO


P Adam Wainwright, St. Louis - 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO; 1-3, R, RBI

1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis - 2-4, R, RBI

P Javier Vazquez, Atlanta - 8 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO, L

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Braves Take Two Of Three From Reds

I decided since I fell behind that I'm just going to give the scores, basics and Three Stars for this series.


W - Javier Vazquez (2-1)
L - Edinson Volquez (2-2)
S - Mike Gonzalez (2)
HR - Jeff Francoeur (2)


P Javier Vazquez, Atlanta - 6 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO

RF Jeff Francoeur, Atlanta - 1-3, GA HR, R, 2 BB, RBI

P Mike Gonzalez, Atlanta - 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, SV


W - Derek Lowe (2-1)
L - Bronson Arroyo (3-1)
HR - ATL - Chipper Jones (2)
Yunel Escobar (2)
CIN - Alex Gonzalez (1)


SS Yunel Escobar, Atlanta - 3-4, 2B, HR, 3 R, 4 RBI

P Derek Lowe, Atlanta - 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO

3B Chipper Jones, Atlanta - 2-4, HR, R, 4 RBI


W - Micah Owings (1-2)
L - Kenshin Kawakami (1-3)
HR - ATL - David Ross (2)
CIN - Jay Bruce 2 (5)


RF Jay Bruce, Cincinnati - 3-3, 2 HR, 3 R, BB, 4 RBI

P Micah Owings, Cincinnati - 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO; 2-3, 2B, R

1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati - 2-3, 2 2B, 2 R, 3 RBI

The link to the third game will be changed to the Baseball-Reference link once that box score and play-by-play is posted by the website.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Braves Come Out On Top In Pitcher's Duel


With a final swing and a miss by Ronnie Belliard, Rafael Soriano capped a wild pitching duel as the Braves squeaked by the Nationals, winning 1-0.

Jair Jurrjens and John Lannan locked horns for a long pitching duel. They both walked two and struck out four. Jurrjens allowed six hits in his 7 2/3 inning stint and was removed after his two walks in the eighth. Mike Gonzalez struck out Adam Dunn to keep it a scoreless game.

In the top of the ninth, Matt Diaz singled off of Garrett Mock with one out. After Casey Kotchman grounded into a force out at second base, Jordan Schafer worked a walk. Manny Acta then decided to bring in lefty Mike Hinckley to face a pinch-hitter, righty Martin Prado. The Atlanta pinch-hitter worked a walk to load the bases and then Hinckley was left in to face Kelly Johnson. He seemed to labor and Johnson coaxed a five-pitch walk out of him as well, forcing in the run.

Rafael Soriano struck out Elijah Dukes and Ronnie Belliard in the final frame to end the game and give the Braves their second win in six games on the road trip. It's a shame that Jurrjens didn't get the win; he pitched wonderfully and very efficiently. It was a sight to see.

W - Mike Gonzalez (1-0)
L - Mike Hinckley (1-1)
S - Rafael Soriano (2)


P Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta - 7 2/3 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO

P John Lannan, Washington - 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO

P Rafael Soriano, Atlanta - 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO, 2-2 SV

AP Photo by Alex Brandon

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nationals Pull Out Second One-Run Victory Over Reeling Braves


Joel Hanrahan pitched out of a major jam in the ninth inning and the Washington Nationals won their second straight one-run decision against Atlanta by a 4-3 score.

The Braves scored three in the top of the first inning off of Washington starter Shairon Martis. Casey Kotchman drove in Chipper Jones with a two-out double and Jeff Francoeur hit a ball to shortstop that scored two runs. Brian McCann scored on the infield hit and Casey Kotchman scored on the throwing error by shortstop Alberto Gonzalez.

The Nationals scored a run with a Jesus Flores double off of Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami. They continued the scoring in the sixth inning after Martis held the Braves off the board since then.

Adam Dunn led off the inning with a solo homer. After Elijah Dukes reached on an error by Chipper Jones, Austin Kearns hit a liner to left that Matt Diaz lost in the stadium lights. Kearns got a triple out of that. Jeff Bennett relieved Kawakami and struck out Jesus Flores. Alberto Gonzalez attempted a bunt next, but McCann threw him out. Pinch-hitter Josh Willingham then lined the second pitch he saw into left, scoring Kearns.

The bullpens of both teams held each other scoreless. In the top of the ninth, Joel Hanrahan came on to close the game. He led off the inning by walking Diaz on four pitches. The next batter, Jordan Schafer, slapped a hit into right field that he stretched into a double and Diaz reached third. Pinch-hitter Greg Norton then bounced back to Hanrahan for the first out. Kelly Johnson then attempted to swing at a changeup and got out in front of it, popping it up behind second base. With two out, Yunel Escobar hit a hard grounder on the first pitch, but it bounced right to Anderson Hernandez for the game-ending groundout.

I saw that ninth inning. Two words: incredibly frustrating.

W - Shairon Martis (2-0)
L - Kenshin Kawakami (1-2)
S - Joel Hanrahan (2)
HR - Adam Dunn (4)


RF Austin Kearns, Washington - 1-2, 3B, 2 R, 2 BB, RBI

PH Josh Willingham, Washington - 1-1, GA 1B, RBI

CF Jordan Schafer, Atlanta - 2-3, 2 2B, BB

AP Photo By Alex Brandon