All about the Braves and baseball events.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Outfielders: Promise And Potential, And Hopefully No Duds

It's the Braves outfielders' turn!

LF Matt Diaz - (425 PA, .313/.390/.488, 18 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 58 RBI, 35/90 BB/K, 133 OPS+)
LF Melky Cabrera - (540 PA, .274/.336/.416, 28 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 43/59 BB/K, 99 OPS+)
CF Nate McLouth (total stats PIT and ATL) - (591 PA, .256/.352/.436, 27 2B, 2 3B, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 68/99 BB/K, 109 OPS+)
RF Jason Heyward (total stats with three teams) - (422 PA, .323/.408/.555, 25 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 51/51 BB/K)
CF Jordan Schafer - (195 PA, .204/.313/.287, 8 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 27/63 BB/K)
UT Mitch Jones (2009 AAA Albuquerque) - (434 PA, .297/.364/.651, 26 2B, 3 3B, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 40/102 BB/K)

On the surface, the outfield spots are only half-settled. Realistically, the jobs are mostly set in stone, but a couple of players could force their way onto the Braves with strong springs.

Matt Diaz, picked up by the Braves for minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez just four years ago, has flat out hit ever since he came to Atlanta. His 2009 season made up for a mostly-lost 2008 campaign; his OPS, OPS+, RBIs, homers, and stolen bases were all career-high totals. However, he will most likely remain a platoon partner for a left-handed batter. What supports that is Diaz's career OPS splits:

Career vs. RHP: .722 OPS
Career vs. LHP: .921 OPS

The most-likely platoon partner for Diaz should be the Braves' newest acquisition Melky Cabrera. After being signed to a $3.1 million one-year contract, the former Yankee outfielder is one of the first in line to get an outfield spot on the club.

Some Braves fans may argue that he doesn't deserve a spot with the club because of his weak statistics for an outfielder. For his carer, Cabrera has a .269/.331/.385 line with just 36 home runs (13 coming last year, nine in New Yankee Stadium). He's similar to Martin Prado in that he doesn't walk or strike out much (43/59 BB/K in 540 PA last year). The light slugging could prove to be a problem, but Diaz should be able to balance it out like last year.

Nate McLouth will be manning center field full-time for the Braves in the 2010 season. His splits with Pittsburgh and Atlanta were nearly identical except for slugging (.470 with the Pirates, .419 with the Braves). McLouth was knocked out of action for about a month with a left hamstring injury and felt the effects of it for a while. He should be healthy for the season and be able to return to the form that he had in his breakout 2008 season.

The most important player in the Braves' outfield mix is one who was named's top prospect last week. Jason Heyward earned that ranking with a very strong 2009 campaign, spanning three levels. The Braves have made it clear that he'll be given every chance possible to make the Braves out of spring. If so, it's also possible that he could produce right out of the gate and improve the right field position's black hole from last year.

Two wild cards to make the team are Jordan Schafer and Mitch Jones. Schafer, who started the year with the big club and hit two home runs in his major league debut, injured his wrist making a diving catch and wasn't effective since then. There is a possibility that if Cabrera underperforms and Schafer has another strong spring that Melky would be traded to make room for Schafer on the roster.

The last candidate is career minor leaguer Mitch Jones who had a monster season in Class AAA Albuquerque. He could get a utility role because he has experience in the outfield and the infield corners.

The Braves outfield last year started with such promise, went through some turmoil, but eventually stabilized. The outfielders should be able to provide much more stability throughout the 2010 season.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Infielders: Questions To Be Answered Later

Next up, the infielders of the Braves.

1B Troy Glaus - (32 PA, .172/.250/.241, 2 2B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 32 OPS+)
2B Martin Prado - (503 PA, .307/.358/.464, 38 2B, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 117 OPS+)
3B Chipper Jones - (596 PA, .264/.388/.430, 23 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 71 RBI, 118 OPS+)
SS Yunel Escobar - (604 PA, .299/.377/.436, 26 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 76 RBI, 116 OPS+)
UT Omar Infante - (229 PA, .305/.361/.389, 9 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 27 RBI, 100 OPS+)
SS Diory Hernandez - (93 PA, .141/.198/.212, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 9 OPS+)
IF Brooks Conrad - (58 PA, .204/.259/.407, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 74 OPS+)

The Braves have great talent in the infield, but they also have some questions that need to be answered:

  • Can Chipper Jones rebound from his worst season in five years (2004), despite his obviously advancing age (38 in 2010) and constant health questions?
It's easy to say that Jones, now the longest-tenured Brave on the team, is going to continue to get worse because he's getting older. However, it's not particularly fair or smart to guess such a thing. Jones is only a year removed from leading the National League in batting average and on-base percentage and two years removed form leading in OPS and Adjusted OPS+. The end is near, but I'm not betting on it being this season.

  • Can Troy Glaus rebound from his lost season and resume putting up quality 120 OPS+ seasons?
If he does, not only will it benefit the Braves, but it will secure their first base position until Freddie Freeman is ready. Glaus signed a one-year incentive-laden contract with Atlanta, which contains an option for the 2011 season. First base would become a problem if Glaus gets hurt, because all the Braves have to fall back on at the position is Eric Hinske, and Freddie Freeman is not quite ready to take over the position. If the production comes mainly from Glaus, the Braves should be fine at the position.

  • Can Martin Prado continue his .300+/.350+/.450+ production to ease some Braves fans' unrest about the moving of former second baseman Kelly Johnson to Arizona?
Of course, there's no guarantee that Prado will continue to put up those kinds of numbers, but his pro career does show an encouraging trend:

Note: 2003-2007 are his minor league statistics

2003: 251 PA, .286/.358/.350, - BABIP, 2 2B, 6 3B, 0 HR, 23 RBI, 24/30 BB/K
2004: 467 PA, .315/.363/.422, - BABIP, 25 2B, 6 3B, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 30/47 BB/K
2005: 488 PA, .298/.353/.395, .341 BABIP, 20 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 41/65 BB/K
2006: 448 PA, .281/.321/.360, .326 BABIP, 18 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 38 RBI, 26/63 BB/K
2007: 443 PA, .316/.374/.420, .345 BABIP, 23 2B, 3 3B, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 34/41 BB/K
2008: 254 PA, .320/.377/.461, .357 BABIP, 18 2B, 2 HR, 33 RBI, 21/29 BB/K
2009: 503 PA, .307/.358/.464, .320 BABIP, 38 2B, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 36/59 BB/K

I don't have data for the BABIP of Prado's first two full seasons. However, the trends of his career are reasonably consistent.

Prado hasn't batted lower than .280 and it seems as if his OBP norm would be over .350. His slugging might take a dip according to his stats from the minors but there is little indication that his batting average will take a dive because his BABIP doesn't fluctuate much.

  • Can Yunel Escobar continue to produce as one of the top shortstops in the National League?
I'd say so. He has two and a half seasons of at least 100 OPS+:

2007: 355 PAs, 118 OPS+
2008: 587 PAs, 108 OPS+
2009: 604 PAs, 116 OPS+

Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki are in another league by themselves, but Escobar is as roughly (VERY roughly) as good as Jimmy Rollins, just without the speed and stolen bases.

  • Can the Braves have another decent bench infielder besides Omar Infnate?
That remains to be seen. Brooks Conrad will get a shot to win a job out of spring training, as will utility infielder Joe Thurston. All I know is that Diory Hernandez, last year's replacement for an injured Yunel Escobar, is not going to cut it with another 9 OPS+.

If all the answers to those questions come up well for the Braves, the team should be well on their way to having a successful 2010 campaign.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Catchers: Braves Best In NL, Among The Best In the Biz

(Since started on Around The Horn on Friday, I figure that it would be a good idea for me to delve into it as well.)

Brian McCann - (551 PA, .281/.349/.486, 35 2B, 21 HR, 94 RBI, 120 OPS+)
David Ross - (151 PA, .273/.380/.508, 9 2B, 7 HR, 20 RBI, 134 OPS+)
Clint Sammons - (12 PA, .182/.250/.182, 0 2B, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 18 OPS+)

In just a few short years, the Braves have developed into one of the best offensive catching teams in all of baseball. Brian McCann, once one of the Baby Braves that helped Atlanta to their final NL East title to date, has developed into the premier offensive catcher in the National League. Last season, despite his vision problems, he led all National League catchers in OPS (.834), doubles (35), home runs (21), RBI (94), and total bases (237). McCann missed time in late April and early May to fix complications from his LASIK eye surgery. When returning to play, McCann had to wear eyeglasses the rest of the season.

His backup, David Ross, raked in his short playing time. While filling in for McCann while the starting catcher was having eye problems, Ross batted a robust .298/.411/.574 in 57 PAs. He provided a good fill-in bat for McCann the rest of the season, even hitting two solo home runs in a game where the Orioles blew out the Braves by an 11-2 score.

Ross has an excellent percentage when it comes to catching baserunners (48%, 19/40). However, the reason for that may be because he calls for a fastball when he suspects a runner is going to steal. This sometimes led to the batter having an easy pitch to hit. That may be the only thing that anyone can criticize Ross.

Clint Sammons simply provides a little depth at the catcher position. If he's starting for any extended period of time, the Braves are in a lot of trouble.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Big Mac Admits How He Stayed "Big"

Former first baseman and current Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire admitted to doing what many baseball fans have suspected and accused him of for a long time. The slugger admitted to using steroids at various points throughout his career. Those points include:

The 1989-90 offseason: in 1989, McGwire batted .231/.339/.467, which represented his worst batting average performance. He only increased his output to .235/.370/.489 the next season.

After he was injured in 1993: if he intended for steroids to help, they may not have worked. He was limited to 172 PAs in 1994 and didn't stay on the field for an extended period of time until 1995 (422 PAs).

"On occasion" throughout the 1990s, including 1998: This period was naturally when McGwire emerged as one of the premier sluggers in all of baseball.

McGwire admitting his steroid use does clear the air and ceases the arguments concerning the validity of his statistics. However, it remains to be seen what kinds of effects the revelation will have on baseball statistics as a whole.

What we do know is that the single-season home run list is now topped with admitted and suspected steroid users:

Barry Bonds - 73
Mark McGwire - 70
Sammy Sosa - 66
Mark McGwire - 65
Sammy Sosa - 63
Sammy Sosa - 62
Roger Maris - 61
Babe Ruth - 60
Babe Ruth - 59
Jimmie Foxx - 58
Hank Greenberg - 58
Ryan Howard - 58
Mark McGwire - 58

I suppose that means that Ryan Howard will soon be accused of using steroids very soon. ;)

When players hit 50 home runs in a season these days, it seems to automatically make them steroid user suspects in people's minds. This can't go on forever, though. At some point, fans must realize that there are factors in most eras in baseball history that skew statistics. It just so happens that this is one of those eras that involve performance enhancers.

AP Photo by V. J. Lovero

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Braves Complete Off-Season With Low-Risk, High-Reward Signings

1B Troy Glaus
(32 PA, .172/.250/.241, 2 2B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 3/8 BB/K, 32 OPS+)
CIF/COF Eric Hinske (224 PA, .242/.348/.432, 12 2B, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 27/52 BB/K, 107 OPS+)

Frank Wren essentially completed the off-season for the Braves by signing third baseman Troy Glaus and utility man Eric Hinske to solidify Atlanta's bench.

Glaus, a career third baseman and designated hitter, has six career games at first base. All those games have come within the past two years in St. Louis. However, the potential for him being a 25-30 home run and 100 RBI, as Wren stated, is very high.

With Hinske, the Braves have a bench player who can play both corner infield and corner outfield positions. The former Rookie of the Year fulfilled the bench player role with the Pirates and Yankees last season.

This signing pretty much closes the book on Wren's off-season shopping. Assuming that Hinske, Glaus and Cabrera are to make the team and the Braves will carry 12 pitchers, this means the Braves have one bench spot left:

C - McCann
1B - Glaus
2B - Prado
SS - Escobar
3B - Jones
LF - Diaz
CF - McLouth
RF - Heyward

C - Ross
OF - Cabrera
OF/IF - Hinske
IF/LF - Infante

It's most likely that the last bench spot on the team will be filled by someone who can play shortstop. If Brooks Conrad can learn to play shortstop consistently in the spring, he may get the spot. An earlier signing in the winter, Joe Thurston, is another option because he has experience at shortstop. The third player likely to get that spot is Dioary Hernandez, who filled in for Escobar last season when Yunel was hurt. The only problem is that Hernandez's bat is VERY light (93 PAs of .144/.198/.212 with three doubles, one homer and a 9 OPS+) and he can only play shortstop.