All about the Braves and baseball events.

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.

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