All about the Braves and baseball events.

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