All about the Braves and baseball events.

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.


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