All about the Braves and baseball events.

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.

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