Tag Archives: Tommy Hanson

Atlanta Braves First Half Report Card

So the season is just about halfway complete (Stats thru July 3 games) and it is time to examine just where the Braves stand individually, and collectively, with half a season left to make a push for the playoffs.

Starters

LF Martin Prado-  A

I know, right now it seems hard to give anybody on this team an A with the way they’ve been playing, but Prado is worthy of it. Offensively, he’s the perfect two hitter for this team, thanks to  suddenly recognizing the value of a walk. If you want any explanation as to why Prado is headed for a career year, that is it. He’s already drawn 32 walks, his previous career high was 40. The result is a stellar .383 on base percentage. He’s also quietly put himself in position to push for 20 stolen bases this year, while having been caught just once. Defensively, he’s been very solid and helps round out perhaps the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball. After what he gave us last year, Prado’s year has been nothing short of outstanding. He deserved more all star consideration than he got.

CF Michael Bourne- A+

Wait, really? The first two players receive As on a team we’re all this frustrated with right now? Well, things may change once we get out of the outfield. What has Bourn not done well? I tell you, those contract years can be awfully motivational. On the merits of his defense alone, at a position where stellar defensive player can be a huge difference maker, Bourn is having an above average season. He’s the best defensive outfielder in the national league, and should be well on his way to his second gold glove. Should the club stay in contention however, he should also find his name in the MVP conversation if he keeps up his offensive pace. All he’s done there is gone and managed to put himself third in hits and second in runs scored, while being third in the league in stolen bases. He’s already set a career high in home runs, and could push to do the same in doubles, triples, and walks. It’s a crying shame we’re hoping Braves fans can click a mouse enough times to get him in the all-star game.

RF Jason Heyward- A-

Some might argue Heyward deserves higher marks, but one can’t forget the slumps he’s prone to, and been through. Remember, before an absolutely torrid June, Heyward was the subject of a lot of venom from Braves fans, so we can’t act like this season has been a total bed of roses. Heyward’s defense has been exceptional, which is reason to keep him on the field as much as possible. Given more regular playing time, especially against lefties, Heyward started getting in a groove and producing. His RBI numbers may be down, but that’s what happens when you place arguably your most complete hitter at the bottom of the order. They should improve as long as he keeps hitting behind Bourn and Prado. We know he won’t have a repeat of June, but we should see something similar in production from him, and with his stellar defense, clearly, right field is not a problem spot.

3B Chipper Jones- B

He only gets a B because of the games he’s missed due to injury or needed time off. When in the lineup, he’s been fantastic, but when he’s out of the lineup, we suffer, and suffer big time. The drop off from him to Juan Francisco or Matt Diaz is steep and precipitous, and one we simply can’t afford. When on the field, it’s easily arguable Chipper has been the best offensive player on the team. His power numbers trail Heyward’s only slightly, and that can be attributed somewhat to the adjustment period coming back from injury. Chipper has only had 185 plate appearances, whereas Michael Bourn has had 338. That’s a big difference. For Chipper to get into the A range, he’s going to need 200 to 225 I believe in the second half, and I honestly can’t say at this point we can expect that from him. And that’s unfortunate, we need his bat.

SS Tyler Pastornicky- D

I won’t give him an F, simply because he was overmatched to begin with. You might also wonder why I’m not listing Andrelton Simmons here. Simple, Pastornicky played in almost twice as many games at shortstop as Simmons did in the first half, so when grading the Braves shortstop to this point, Pastornicky’s production gets weighted a little heavier. Offensively, he did have some big hits, but he struck out at a 4:1 ratio, and had an OBP of .281. Those can be tolerated at shortstop if good defense is played. Well, about that…..

2B Dan Uggla- C+

He’s been in a massive slump the past month, and that has probably dropped him a full letter grade. Defensively, he’s not been a liability. His errors seem to stand out to us because we expect so many from him, but he’s having the best defensive season of his career. Remember, there’s more to playing good defense than not making errors. Offensively, there’s still plenty of hope for him. His OPS stands right now at the exact number he finished 2011 with. So if we can get his usual second half surge, his end of the year numbers should again be more than okay. Cutting down on the strikeouts would be a big help, as Uggla’s BABIP is over .300, he just needs to put more in play. Furthermore, his home run to fly ball ratio is the lowest of his career, and by a pretty good margin. If that can come closer to the norm in the second half, we could see a 20 home run close to the season. One other reason to stay optimistic is his new found patience at the plate. He’s on pace to draw over 100 walks for the first time in his career. So while right now he’s not been anything too special, we can hope at the end of the year that’s turned around.

1B Freddie Freeman- C-

He was off to a good start, then suffered those eye problems that seem to be an issue only with the Braves. Why that is, I’ll never understand. At any rate, he’s had some spurts here in there, but collectively, the year has been a disappointment. He may be on pace for 100 RBI, but he benefited greatly from batting in the three spot, a spot hopefully he won’t be back in for the remainder of the year, at least not until his offensive game finds consistency. He’s walking a good deal less this year and that has contributed a bit to the decline in production at the plate. A turnaround from Freeman would be extremely helpful to this sputtering offense, because as of right now, he’s not much more than just an average first basemen.

C Brian McCann- F

Yes, here’s where the first F of the year gets doled out. This is due in large part to what’s expected of McCann, and ultimately, what this team needs, to be really good. If you think about it, if you put a typical Brian McCann year at the 3 or 4 spot in our lineup, we probably have 4 or 5 more wins right now, at least, and aren’t chasing the Nationals, we’re staring eye to eye with them. One has to think though that McCann will snap out of this. His OBP is .060 lower than his career mark, and his slugging is almost .100 lower. This sort of drop off is NOT expected from someone 28 years old, even at the grueling catcher position. Some of his drop off can absolutely be attributed to just bad luck, his BAbip is at a paltry .228. His career mark is .295. So this should eventually start to balance out. When it does, the Braves offense will look demonstratively better. But until it does, we’re going to continue to struggle at times to score runs.

Starting Lineup- B-

So just by looking through the typical starting lineup for the season, one should be able to see why we may be near the top of the league in runs score, yet we all feel so frustrated with the offense. When guys like Freeman, McCann and Uggla are hitting, and doing what we expect, this offense is as good and explosive as any baseball. However, when guys you count on the middle of your order to produce your power are slumping as bad as these guys are prone to, you’re offense is going to have a hard time putting together any sort of consistency. There are enough bright spots to still keep this team in contention, and give us hope, but we need more of the expected big boppers to start bopping.

Bench

Juan Francisco- D-

He’s had some nice moments filling in for Chipper Jones, but for the most part, he’s one of the reasons Braves pinch hitters have been among the least effective in the majors. Anybody who has 38 strikeouts compared to just 3 walks, there’s a problem there, a big one. The positive side is he’s shown a little power, and has produced some runs, but a .248 OBP is just unacceptable. Unfortunately, Chipper’s need for time off will ensure he sees more playing time in the second half.

Eric Hinske- F

If there was an F-, Hinske would get it. I don’t even know where to start with how terrible he has been this season. He’s of no value defensively, and offensively, his slugging percentage is lower than the on base percentage of every current starter on the team. A mere five extra base hits from your supposed power source off the bench? Randall Delgado has a comparable slugging percentage.

Andrelton Simmons- A

How can this be anything but an A? He’s simply come in and in one month in the league established himself as one of the finer defensive players, not just at shortstop, but in all of baseball. And at a key defensive position like shortstop, that can be more important any offense contributed. But it’s not like the 22 year old hasn’t held his own there either. He’s hitting .323, but more impressively for such a young player with such little seasoning, he’s walked seven times to just eleven strike outs. He’s shown decent power at the plate as well. The key will be how well he adjusts once everyone starts adjusting to him. For now though, he’s been spectacular for the Braves.

Matt Diaz- C-

Diaz personifies platoon player, or I should say, he personifies an average platoon player. He’s good against lefties, but not great. However, against right handers, he’s among the worst hitters I’ve ever seen. This includes pitchers. Using a roster spot for someone that one dimensional, and then letting that one dimensional player take away playing time from your best all around player, it’s baffling. But I can’t penalize Diaz for Fredi Gonzalez being a moron, can I? The Braves need to find a reserve outfield bat, and Hinske’s ability to play 1B probably makes his spot safe, even if his overall production is significantly down from just about everyone’s. The more I write, the more I want to lower the grade, but his serviceability against left handed pitching keeps it out of the D range.

David Ross- B+

Ross is another guy prone to slumping, although it’s usually when he’s called upon to start regularly, which is clearly not his forte. However, when it comes to the backup catcher position, not many teams can do much better than David Ross. Unfortunately, his struggles when playing everyday make subbing him more often for the slumping McCann an exercise in futility. He’s a solid defensive catcher, calls a good game, and and is a threat with the bat. From his position, there’s not a lot more that you can ask for.

Jack Wilson- C-

Wilson isn’t here for offense, he’s here for defense, so his offense shouldn’t weigh too heavily into the discussion. However, as a late inning defensive replacement and not much more, you really don’t get the chance to impact that many games that way, though he did perhaps save one by himself with his glove. So, what he does at the plate as a pinch hitter, it does make a difference. Being called on to pinch hit and then failing to execute a sacrifice bunt, yeah, you don’t get high marks for that. Wilson’s been worse than Hinske at the plate this year, and it’s actually not even close, that’s how bad he’s been. But he’s been solid at what his primary job is, so the rating comes in at just below average.

Jose Costanza- F

I seriously do not, for the life of me, understand the love affair with this guy. He doesn’t walk, he strikes out, had just one extra base hit, and he didn’t steal a base. Yet people clamor for more playing time from him. I’m going to start dismissing anyone who wants more playing time from Costanza (because that would mean less for, you know, three VERY good outfielders) as people who aren’t actual Braves fans because apparently they don’t pay a lick of attention.

Bench D-

Because at this point, technically Simmons is the starting shortstop, and was never used as an actual bench player, there is very little to like here. David Ross is a big bright spot, and Jack Wilson’s defense is solid enough. After that though? It’s atrocious. Even D- might be a bit generous. The bench needs upgrading in a big way. For all the woes of the offense, the inability to rest a slumping starter and hope one of your reserves comes in and breathes a little life into the offense makes snapping a team out of a funk all the more difficult. Most of our bench players, on other teams, even the worst in baseball, would still be lucky to be on the major league squad.

Starting Rotation

Tommy Hanson B-

Yes, he’s 9-5, I understand all of that. But a pitcher is about so much more, okay, pretty everything more, than wins. Hanson’s allowed 16 home runs, which is only two more than the much maligned Mike Minor. He’s also walked just one fewer hitter, even if in 14 more innings. Hanson’s record could, and should be better. Many times over the course of the season the Braves offense has given him a lead, only to see him come back in in the very next inning and surrender it. Great pitchers don’t do that. Originally Hanson was supposed to be an ace pitcher. We’re about to that point in his career, that if he’s going to be, it better happen soon. As it is stands, he’s a solid two or three. Unfortunately, this rotation calls on him to be the ace.

Mike Minor- D

Would you believe he’s thrown the second most innings on our staff. I guess if you want an explanation as to how this seemingly talented team can struggle like it does, the fact this is the pitcher you’ve relied the second heaviest on speaks volumes. Minor’s troubles don’t really need to be documented, do they? He walks too many, and can’t keep the ball in the ballpark. The result? Way too many innings where three or four runs get scored. I haven’t done the research, but I’d bet Minor is among the team leaders in percentages of innings thrown without giving up a run. Unfortunately, when he gives them up, he does so in a big way. His inconstancy and unreliability makes him a big weak link in this rotation.

Brandon Beachy- A+

Unfortunately, there’s no reason to go any further here, since it will be next year at this time, at least, before he pitches again. He was the ace this staff needed. Now, he’s the dominant starter turned cheerleader it did not need.

Randall Delgado C+

You might be surprised to see his grade nearly the same as Tommy Hanson’s. Consider though Delgado wasn’t supposed to even be part of this rotation, Hanson was supposed to be an ace caliber pitcher. Delgado has been beleaguered, but he’s simply gone through the struggles of a young pitcher. You have to remember he’s only 22, and after some rough starts early on, for the most part, he’s settled down. He still walks too many hitters, and that gets his pitch count high, among other things, but that can be worked on with experience in the majors. He does a good job of not allowing home runs, and he’s a solid strikeout pitcher. Fans wanting to give up on Delgado already, they just need to be quiet. Give the kid a chance.

Tim Hudson B+

His two terrible first innings against the Nationals stand out, as does the fact he’s been roughed up a few times this season in  Minoresque mode. However, he’s also been the dominant Tim Hudson of old at times as well. Unfortunately the bone spurs in his ankle leave him somewhat of a question mark every time it is his turn to pitch. However, aside from Beachy, he’s clearly been the best starter on the team. Unfortunately, with Beachy down, for this rotation to be befitting of an elite team, it needs someone like Beachy heading it, and right now, Hudson just isn’t that.

Jair Jurrjens- C-

Which Jurrjens are we grading? Pre AAA stint Jurrjens (F), or the one we’ve seen since (A-)? Amazingly, this team managed to win two of his first four starts, thanks to 24 total runs scored in two of his starts. So, Jurrjens didn’t hurt the team as badly as initially feared. Though, it would have been nice to have had him humming along so Delgado could have replaced Minor, and not Jurrjens. In any event, he’s been solid his last three outings, in fact, just three earned runs in three starts with 18.1 innings pitched. He’s only walked four hitters in that stretch and not allowed a home run after allowing 10 walks and five long balls in his first four starts while pitching just 16.1 innings. The turnaround is immense. If Jurrjens can continue that upward climb, he slots in nicely in the two or three role. More consistent performances by Hudson and Hanson would leave Jurrjens in a wonderful niche as three, possibly four starter pending trade, down the stretch.

Rotation- C

With Brandon Beachy, it’s a solid rotation. Without, there’s still too many questions. Minor isn’t as much a question anymore, as an explosive inning waiting too happen. Delgado is still prone to get rocked every now and then, and Hudson and Hanson have also lacked the consistency you want from top end starters. Throw in the fact that Jurrjens, despite his recent success, is still a wildcard, and you have a rotation that can ultimately be anything from upper third in the league, to bottom third. That’s too large of a variance. Frank Wren needs to find help, and by help, I don’t exactly mean Ben Sheets.

Bullpen

Craig Kimbrel- A+

Could he be anything else? No, he’s not perfect, but he’s arguably the most dominant closer in baseball today. In fact, he’s turning into one of the most dominant closers of recent memory. You want to strike out 50, walk just 10, and allow a lone home run in your 30 innings of work, with a WHIP of .767, you get an A+

Kris Medlen- B+

Medlen doesn’t really have the stuff to be dominant, and I’m not sure he’s got the stuff to be an elite set-up guy either. But he is still a very good pitcher, who with our problems in the rotation, may ultimately be an answer there. We shall see. In the meantime, he’s ideal for coming into games when one of the other starters has been roughed up early and giving us several innings of work. Of course, by then the game is already in hand. This asset would be more valuable in trying to protect dominant middle inning relief guys from pitching in long inning situations and getting burned out. Unfortunately, we don’t have those anymore.

Chad Durbin- C

Durbin was terrible early, and even I was ready to be rid of him. He’s since settled down, and right now has easily supplanted Jonny Venters as the 7th inning guy, and might even push O’Flaherty for the 8th inning role. The Durbin we’ve seen as of late could be a vital piece to a bullpen, that hopefully when all is said and done is still a team strength, just not with the pieces being who we envisioned at the beginning of the year. Nevertheless, his rocky start still has to factor in to his first half grade.

Jonny Venters- F

Much like McCann, this stems a lot as well from expectation. If you look at his numbers on the whole, he’s a guy many teams would probably still take on their roster. If you look at what we expected from him, and were counting on him, most Braves fans would gladly drive him either to Gwinnett, or to Dr. James Andrews office. Ever since Venters was given some time off for some soreness, he’s been extremely ineffective, and it’s almost become a foregone conclusion that if Venters pitches, the game is over, and not in favor of the Braves. An injury would certainly explain the sudden fall-off. And while nobody wants an injury, one would think, an injury might be easier to fix than totally screwed up mechanics, or a complete lack of confidence. You have to wonder if these relievers are like running backs. In the NFL, it’s a pretty proven fact, you hit a certain number of carries one year, expect a decline the next in production. I’ve got think there are similarities at play here.

Eric O’Flaherty- B-

Another case of the expectations not being matched, and thus, the grade reflecting it. It’s not that O’Flaherty has had a bad year, he hasn’t. But there have been memorable spots where he didn’t get the job done. Last year, there was hardly a time all season he failed to get the job done. Venters struggles have exasperated O’Flaherty’s decline. If Medlen could perhaps move into the 8th inning rule, O’Flaherty might get back to a more comfortable 7th inning role. Who knows. It’s suffice to say though, Eric O’Flaherty has not been the problem in our bullpen.

Cristhian Martinez- C+

Martinez is the case of where the expectations and role actually help his grade. He’s a mop-up, long relief guy, and that’s a role he’s more than capable of filling in a solid fashion. His only real fallacy is his trouble keeping the ball in the park, but other than that, he’s been a very serviceable mop-up pitcher. Is he anything special? No. But he’s not a weak link, and for his role, he’s been quite effective.

Livan Hernandez- C-

Like Pastornicky, because he appeared so often, his performance for the first half counts towards the entire teams. Hernandez had the same role as Martinez, only he didn’t perform as well in it. He wasn’t horrible, and he ate a lot of innings in games where we were hopelessly behind at times it seemed. But that said, Cristhian Martinez outperformed him….

Bullpen- B-

The presence of Craig Kimbrel alone keeps this bullpen above average. He’s that good. The massively disappointing season of Jonny Venters drags it back down, and the coming back to earth of Eric O’Flaherty (without falling OFF the earth) steadies it out as a slightly above average bullpen. Less Venters, a continued improved Durbin, and more Medlen though could turn this unit back into a real strength.

Managing

Fredi Gonzalez- F

I don’t really even want to spend the time dissecting the ways Fredi Gonzalez deserves an F. I think they’re all pretty well known and documented. I’d rather hear some reasons he doesn’t.

Overall Grade B-

We’re slumping now, obviously, but we’ve seen what this team can do when things are clicking. There are some pieces that have started to come back around in the bullpen, and in the rotation that could benefit the pitching in the second half of the year. Are we an elite, title contender right now? No, of course not. Can we be? Yes. Though, I’d feel more confident if the man in charge of making the adjustments, and of adapting to players themselves coming around, or falling off, wasn’t a complete and total idiot.

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A Brave Take Over in the All-Star Game?

For discussion purposes, which Braves do you think deserve to be in Kansas City, and which ones should be starting?

Honestly, I think only one Brave truly deserves to start, and that’s Michael Bourn. I absolutely believe he deserves to be the starting center fielder for the National League. I’ll argue that Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera should probably be flanking him.

Bourn has been everything we were hoping for when we traded for him last season. He’s been nothing short of outstanding with the glove, being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league. Offensively he’s also more than held his own, being a top 15 player in the league with the bat. His value would probably even be increased were it not for a handful of shoddy calls on stolen base attempts during the course of the season.

While his numbers don’t have the sexiness of a Braun, or Joey Votto, his defense coupled with his offense make Bourn one of the league’s most valuable players and should have his name in the MVP discussion. It will be interesting to see what happens if this team does wind up contending for the division in September and how the voters treat Bourn.

Bourn however is just part of a phenomenal outfield, quite possibly the best outfield this franchise has ever fielded. It may not have the brute power and the pure offensive greatness of the 2003 unit, but defensively this trio of Bourn, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado may more than make up for that. Not to mention, offensively, they aren’t exactly chop liver. The question is, are the other two going to be all-stars?

I feel that Jason Heyward, with the run he’s gone on lately, has played himself into the All-Star game. Outfield in the National League is exceptionally crowded though, so it will be interesting to see if he gets in. What separates Heyward from the others isn’t necessarily something that usually gets a player into the All-Star game. Heyward’s exceptional on the base paths and in the field. While he trails guys like Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutcheon and Matt Holiday in offensive production, he run circles around them defensively. Will it matter? It should. Especially now that the offensive numbers are coming around to the defense.

Heyward’s arguably the closest thing this team has to a national superstar outside of Chipper Jones, so if he keeps his performance up, and the team stays in contention, he may very well also have his name thrown into the MVP discussion.

Of course, many Braves fans will tell you Martin Prado is the team’s MVP, and his versatility might make them correct. Personally, I wouldn’t mind him playing some second base to give Uggla a spell some. But the love Braves fans have for one of the ultimate glue guys in the game isn’t enough to be an all-star.

However, with the game somewhat meaning something, though not necessarily to manager Tony LaRussa this year, Prado’s ability to play several positions might make it impossible to leave him off the squad. Of course, that’s not the only case Prado makes for being an all-star. He’s one of the better defensive outfielders in the league, in addition to his stellar .838 OPS. Overall, he, like the other two outfielders, is one of the more valuable players in the entire league. Throw in the versatility, and if all things are equal, the entire Atlanta Braves outfield will be in Kansas City.

What’s somewhat interesting is that with Melky Cabrera on his way, that’s four people who have manned the outfield for the Braves in the past 2 1/2 seasons that will be on the all-star team.

Dan Uggla is likely going to start at second base for the National League thanks to the fan vote. But, should he? I say no. Brandon Phillips, in my opinion SHOULD be the starting second basemen for the National League as I feel he is the most complete second basemen in the league. In fact, if Prado makes the team, it’s possible Uggla wouldn’t even be on the roster, and the National League would go with just the one second basemen and then use Prado as the backup.

That said, if you’re taking two second basemen, a strong case can be made for Uggla, as in the National League there are really only three all-star caliber second basemen in the league. Yes, Uggla strikes out a ton, and no his average that pops up on the screen isn’t exactly nice to look at, but looking deeper into things, he’s still a very good offensive player with his on base percentage thanks to newfound patience at the plate and his power. And at a position like 2nd base, that’s a nice, nice bonus to have. Defensively, he’s also not exactly been a problem, though it would be nice if he had more range to help offset Freddie Freeman’s lack of it.

Darwin Barney is phenomenal defensively, but his offensive game is still too lacking to be an all-star. Not only that, you gotta think Cardinal fans would be none too pleased if LaRussa decorated this all-star team with members of the Chicago Cubs.

However, there is one player out in the desert that makes a very, very good case for Aaron Hill, who since coming over from Toronto last year has been nothing but outstanding at the plate. Actually, now that I think about it, if Uggla weren’t to win the fan vote, I honestly don’t know that I’d put him on the squad. But that’s not something we have to worry about, as the fan vote will land him on the team, and starting.

Freddie Freeman currently sits second among first basemen in the fan voting, and that’s as close as he’ll get to the All-Star game. For some reason Fredi Gonzalez continues to bat him 3rd, despite the fact that right now he’s definitely not a three hitter. The power is nice, and when Freeman gets hot, he gets really hot. But he still makes way too many outs to be an all-star.

For what it’s worth, Andrelton Simmons and David Ross both have better oWAR numbers than Freeman does, and Randall Delgado is right there with him. That’s what happens when you make a lot of outs. He has 100 more plate appearances than Chipper Jones, yet he has the same number of walks. Until that changes, Freeman’s not going to be playing in any all-star games. Plus, Joey Votto plays his position, so the starting spot should be anchored down for years to come.

However, on the flip side of this coin is a dearth of big name guys to go. Consider that Lance Berkman has played in all of 13 games this year, yet he’s second in voting at first base. So who goes as Votto’s backup? Bryan LaHair probably should, but again, that whole Cubs thing may get in the way. Brandon Belt has quietly put together a solid year, but Freeman’s power numbers and RBIs might tilt the scales in his favor. However, when it comes to putting the sexy power numbers with a solid offensive game all around, former Brave Adam LaRoche may make his first appearance in the mid-summer classic.

At shortstop, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t played enough games to warrant all-star consideration, but, had he, one would think he’d be in the discussion. The National League isn’t exactly a hot bed for shortstops this year. When you think of the position, does anyone in the National League jump out at you as a sure-fire all-star game starter? Didn’t think so.

The race itself is a close one between Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki to get the fan vote, though Tulowitzki obviously is injured and won’t be playing in the game. Even if Furcal doesn’t get the vote, I expect LaRussa to nab his former shortstop and have him start. Starlin Castro has done enough offensively to go with his superior defensive skills to make his way on to the team as well, though Jed Lowrie certainly has done enough with the bat this year to keep his name in the conversation as well.

Brian McCann’s run of six straight all-star games will certainly come to an end this season. In fact, it can be argued McCann hasn’t been even a top five catcher in the National League this season. I expect LaRussa to take two backup catchers, and the three it should be are pretty clear-cut, in my opinion. Yadir Molina and Buster Posey are locked in a tight battle for the starting nod, and Carlos Ruiz should also be secure as an all-star.

Now comes the controversial topic of Chipper Jones. He’s made a late run, and is closing the gap on David Wright and Pablo Sandoval for a chance to start an all-star game in his swan song season. Performance wise, does he deserve to? Of course not. But sometimes the all-star game, and the selection process isn’t about performance, it’s about names, and sentimental favorites. Two things Chipper has going for him.

Another thing Chipper has going for him is, who else you gonna take? David Wright is the unquestionable rightful starter. In fact, as long as the Mets stay in contention, you have to consider him a heavy favorite to be the league’s MVP with the way he’s played thus far. But after him?

Yes, Pablo Sandoval has put together some solid numbers, but he really hasn’t been ALL that better than Chipper. If Chipper were marginally healthier in fact, the two would be much closer I believe in terms of production. In a surprise development, Chipper actually hasn’t been atrocious at third base defensively this year, he’s been solid. Sandoval though on the other hand has been absolutely pitiful. His terrible defense pretty much negates everything he does with the bat. So, you factor in the nostalgia, feel good, retirement aspect of Chipper, he’s probably got a spot reserved in Kansas City. And he may actually be deserving of it too.

Now, to the pitchers…

Going into the season we all thought this was a strength. Now, with the injury to Brandon Beachy, it’s pretty much all but assured only one Braves hurler will be in the all-star game.

Craig Kimbrel is as close to a lock as there is in the league, no sense even really discussing him. He’s become one of the most dominant closers in the entire league. The National League will do well to have him pitching the bottom of the 9th inning in Kansas City.

So, do any starters even warrant consideration? Maybe. Tim Hudson likely would if he’d been healthy to start the year and had more than five starts under his belt. He’s had his rough spots, but he’s been for the most part the typical Tim Hudson. Unfortunately, those bone spurs in his ankle aren’t going anywhere, so he’s somewhat of a question mark the rest of the year. He’s going to be a wildcard as we may have no idea what we’ll get out of him every time he takes the hill.

Tommy Hanson might get some consideration, but the National League is so deep in pitching, I just don’t see where there’s a spot for him. I can only see it if the rotations of other teams prevent some guys from playing in the game that otherwise would. Hanson hasn’t been bad this year at all, but he’s not been as good as we all expected when he first got called up. We were expecting an ace. What we have is a good number two, and very solid number three pitcher. That’s typically not an all-star. If Hanson could just learn to keep the ball in the park, it would help immensely. Consider he’s only allowed four fewer home runs than Mike Minor has. Ouch.

So there you have my evaluation of the chances of Braves players to make the all-star game. If I were betting, I’d say the locks are going to be Bourn, Uggla, Jones and Kimbrel, while Prado and Heyward SHOULD be joining them with Freddie Freeman having an outside chance to join them. If those who I think should make it, indeed do, that’s six all-stars, not bad.

However, what would make those six even more intriguing, consider the number of former Braves likely going. Adam LaRoche is a possibility at first base, while Rafael Furcal and Melky Cabrera are absolute locks. It’s conceivable that at any given time during the all-star game, every position but catcher will be manned by a Brave, or former Brave. Now wouldn’t that be wild?

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The Great Nate McLouth Tommy Hanson Debate

In this day and of instant gratification with just about everything, it comes as no surprise that instant conclusions are all the rage after the first week of the Major League Baseball season.

In general, these conclusions are simply panic-stricken fans making irrational, sometimes even idiotic, claims based on less than five percent of the season.

A word to the wise; chill out.

The baseball season is a long one, and as Tony LaRussa once said, “Great baseball players who have a bad week are still great baseball players”. Rushing to judgement is often a sure-fire way to make yourself look silly come July, and being the guy who once let go of Cliff Lee a long time ago, I know how this works.

However, this is not to say it’s always too early to feel confident in your conclusion about a player.

For the most part, all one needs to do is simply look at a players past before making ridiculous claims about how a player either a) needs to be traded immediately for a bag of popcorn, or b) is headed to the All-Star game.

When a player that has a track record of being an elite player gets off to an amazing start in the season, one can feel rather confident that their numbers at the end of the year will likely keep on pace with what has typically been the result.

However, when a player without a proven track record gets off to a heart, before suggesting they’ve suddenly uncovered something new and are set to bounce back with a great season, or suddenly found their groove, one must seriously consider scaling back the level of expectations placed upon a player. You might want to hold off on the all-star talk for a few weeks.

On the flip side of that very coin, when a player with a solid track record gets off to a slow start, it might be a good idea to consider what this player has done in the past before demanding this player be sent packing.

I bring this up because two names in particular seem to create a dividing line among Braves fans. These two have been lightning rods early in this 2011 Braves fans.

On one side, you have the camp that believes Nate McLouth is going to round out into a solid contributor to what they feel is a championship caliber club. They feel that McLouth will revert back to the hitter he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008 and be a solid piece of the Braves lineup before the season is over.

Then you have those who have zero confidence in McLouth and would probably prefer to see Matt Young manning center field for the Braves.

 

This image of an exasperated Nate McLouth bears a striking resemblance to how many fans feel as well

 

 

With Tommy Hanson, it’s somewhat of the opposite. You have the sector of fans who feel is rather less than stellar start is an indication that the pitcher just doesn’t have it, and that the Braves should part ways with the youngster while he still has value.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those that feel Hanson still has the makings of an ace, and that his 2010 season was actually pretty solid, and that he will more than adequately add to the pitching staff of a club expecting to go to the World Series. Their belief is that his struggles early in the season are minor, perhaps just coincidental, and nothing to be alarmed about.

Here’s where the two arguments differ though, and why in one player’s case, the gloom and doom is probably correct, while in the others, the glass empty is pure insanity at this point time.

Everyone, including yours truly, is waiting on, and yearning for, the Nate McLouth of 2008 to show up one day and starting being a power and speed threat for the Braves lineup.

However, there is a faction of people who simply no longer believe it’s going to happen. And as much as they’d like to be wrong, and as much as perhaps those on the other side of the fence wish to disagree, the numbers say they are right.

Consider for instance that the average big league player strikes out 20.7% of his times to the plate. The bottom tenth percentile come in striking out at a clip of 27.5%, or worse.

McLouth has twice in the past four seasons has twice been over 23%. In 2009 his number for the entire season was 19.5%, a bit better than the league average. But I think it is indeed worth noting that it went from 17.3% to 20.6% once he became a member of the Atlanta Braves.

The high strikeout percentage isn’t that big of a deal if a guy is still drawing a lot of walks, and hitting for power.

McLouth has only once seen his base on balls percentage climb into double digits. So, maybe he’s offering something in the power department, right?

Well, aside from three terrific months in 2008, no, not at all. He slugged .497 in 2008, which has turned out to be .038 points higher than his second best season. In fact, he’s seen his slugging percentage drop to .436, and then a dismal .322 last season.

Let’s look at that 2008 season itself a little more closely too. It’s already established that his 2008 season was a career year, but a closer look tells us that it was more the product of a career three months.

McLouth’s OPS before the all-star break was .899, a very, very fine number, and worthy of his all-star bid, as were his 19 home runs and 33 doubles.

However, somewhere over the course of the summer, pitchers began to figure him out. That or the real Nate McLouth emerged. McLouth would hit just 7 home runs the rest of the way, and collect only 13 doubles while seeing his OPS drop all the way  to .781.

Over the final two months of the year he struck out in roughly 18% of his plate appearances, a good deal higher than the 12% mark he displayed during the seasons first three months.

In all actuality, the hopes people have for Nate McLouth are basically centered around the months of April, May, and July of 2008. McLouth, in those three months posted an OPS of .900 or greater. Here’s the problem, only one other time in his career has he managed to do this.

McLouth set career highs in 2008 for home runs and doubles, and the difference between his 46 doubles in 2008 and his second best year in terms of two baggers is really staggering, as his second highest output was 27.

McLouth did indeed get off to pretty good start with the Pirates in 2009, but it wasn’t quite up to the level of play he had reached in 2008. However, once he was traded to the Braves, his production at the plate quickly took a turn for the worse.

You look at his stat line from 2008 with 152 games played (.256, .356, .497, 46 2B and 26 HR) and compare it to what he’s done in 172 games as a Brave (.228, .329, .375, 33 2B and 17 HR) , you see why the downward trend can’t be expected to cease.

Beyond that, McLouth doesn’t offer much by way of speed on the bases, or defensive help in center field.

He’s only stolen 19 bases as a Brave, and been caught 9 times. A conversion of rate of barely above 66% is terrible, especially for a guy getting on base as infrequently as he is.

Perhaps if McLouth wasn't spending so much time looking lost in the field, his offensive inadequacies would be forgiven

 

In the field, his range is limited and pedestrian, and he doesn’t do much with his arm to hold base runners, or even attempt to throw them out at times. In fact, his defense has steadily declined since becoming a Brave. It has declined so much so that in 2010 McLouth was in the bottom tenth percentile of all fielders in baseball according to UZR.

Weak offense can be accepted if you play premier defense at the game’s most pivotal defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, center field). However, when you combine offense that fails to be above average with defense that is among the worst in baseball, what you get is a serious problem when filling out your lineup card.

McLouth fans long for him to return to what he did in 2008 with the Pirates. The bad news is that there is simply nothing to indicate that he will.

With Tommy Hanson though, just the opposite holds true.

Yes, Tommy Hanson has struggled out of the gate, although his performance against a very good offensive team in Milwaukee wasn’t exactly the stuff of Vicente Padilla.

However, it hasn’t stopped people from saying Hanson needs to be traded while he has value. Some have gone so far as to suggest Hanson was actually “bad” in 2010, that it’s been a steady digression for the young right hander.

Sometimes I wonder if people are watching the same game I am.

Or maybe they just aren’t watching them all. Apparently the only three games that a great many people saw Hanson pitch last year were his three worst outings of the year, and arguably of his young career.

Never mind the fact that in his 31 other starts last year Hanson posted a 2.34 ERA (would be good for 3rd in the NL) and a WHIP of 1.073 (would have been for fourth in the NL). I don’t really know about the rest of you, but if you’re going to tell me I can have numbers like that from a 23, or 24-year-old kid for 31 outings, I’ll take them all day, any day, every day. Without question. Anyone who wouldn’t should probably find another sport to follow, or in the very least quit expecting everyone to be Bob Gibson.

I understand when Hanson was bad last year, which wasn’t that often, he was really bad. But what seems to have been forgotten is that when he was good, which was quite often, he was very, very good.

Have people really already forgotten how good this kid is?

 

I’ve heard more than one person say that Hanson wasn’t as good last year as he was his rookie season. This sort of ludicrous statement can only come one of two ways. Either the only games they watched last year were those few disastrous starts, or, the only numbers they look at for a pitcher is the W-L record, with a little glance at ERA.

The problem is, people point to his apparent decline in 2010 as proof that his 2011 struggles are even more of a sign that he will never be a front line pitcher, and he needs to be dealt while he still offers value.

Well to begin to refute this absurd line of thinking, one should first look to see just how “bad” he really was in 2010, and how much worse he was than in 2009.

One of the first things people point out was the decrease in strikeouts. These people probably forget that for a pitcher to be most effective, pitching a lot of innings is something managers and fans of teams that want to win place a lot of value on. Taking five pitches to strike a guy out is far less efficient than inducing a ground ball after two or three pitches.

So yes, his K/9 ratio did decrease from 8.2 to 7.7. However, what is completely forgotten and ignored by his critics is that he also decreased his BB/9 ratio by a 50% better margin. His K:BB ratio actually increased from just 2.52 to 3.09. Not only that, also saw his HR/9 average go from .70 to .62.

Now, I’m not sure if you’re completely aware of how baseball works, but when a pitcher faces a batter, there are, for the most part (rare instances such as catchers interference, or a 3rd strike getting away aside), there are three possible outcomes that a pitcher, and a pitcher alone, is in complete control of. He can issue a walk, strike the hitter out, or allow a home run.

So, I’m thinking that if a guy is is increasing his strike out to walk ratio, while decreasing the number of home runs he allows, he’s probably pitching better.

Oh, sure, his ERA goes up, but ERA is highly fielder dependent. And please don’t start in with how ERA accounts for errors. It does NOT account for the range and skill, or even mental acuity of the fielders in charge of turning batted balls into outs.

Hanson’s FIP (Fielder independent Pitching) actually dropped in 2010. In other words, if Hanson had the typical average major league defense behind him in both 2009 and 2010, his ERA would have dropped in the 2010 season.

ERA skews numbers two ways, it can be made to be higher than it should be for pitchers with poor defenses, while making pitchers who benefit from great defense behind them appear to be world beaters, not taking into much account how good the pitcher is actually pitching.

Hanson managed to increase his ground ball percentage in 2010, while also decreasing the number of line drives hit against him . Yet, the average on balls in play against him went up. Usually, the correlation between such events works the opposite, in Hanson’s case it didn’t. For that, you can attribute some of that to the defense behind him.

It is forgotten also that Hanson, in 2010, in 25 of his 34 starts allowed 2 earned runs or less. You don’t think that’s pitching well? Yikes.

So yes, Hanson hasn’t exactly been brilliant in his TWO starts to begin the year. I think however his track record has shown that more often than not, he will be, and he’s getting better.

But I wouldn’t want anything like the actual numbers to fool you.

So, yes, you can indeed take something from a players first week, but not a players first week alone. Sometimes the first week is only the continuation of a troubling trend that is possibly years in the making. Sometimes though, it’s just a blip in a strong career that just so happened to come in the first week of April.

Talk to me in July, and I’m willing to bet that most will have completely forgotten their disdain for Tommy Hanson, while if Nate McLouth is still in the lineup, there will be much anguish in Braves country.

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Braves Staff Not Ready to Bow Down to Phillies

Terms like “best ever” have been thrown around to describe this Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation, and with worthy reason. However, some in baseball, and many fans, including yours truly in a moment of overreaction, have anointed this Phillies team National League East champions already on the merits of this pitching staff. People are making statements that no team in the National League has a pitching staff that can even remotely compare.

Simply put, that’s not true. Not only do teams in San Francisco and St. Louis disagree with this, there’s another one located within the Phillies own division that probably is already tired of reading and hearing about how great these Phillies are.

The Atlanta Braves, remember, pitched pretty well last year. Fielding, well, that became a different story. Their pitching though, was outstanding. Never mind that the Braves bullpen enters the 2011 season head and shoulders above the Phillies, their starting rotation actually has the ability to compare pretty favorably.

Keep in mind that of the Phillies big four, three of them are in their 30s. Yes, the Braves also have two of their big four in their 30s as well,  however, they also have two who are among the brightest young pitchers in the game. Halladay, Oswalt, and Lee could all see declines this upcoming season, though I wouldn’t at all bet on it. It’s just something to think about though. How much longer will those guys keep throwing 200 innings? The Phillies need them to, because they don’t want that bullpen throwing many innings this year at all.

It’s not age though that’s important, it’s on field production. On the field, the Atlanta Braves pitching staff has the potential and ability to rival the Phillies, and come close to equaling them, if they don’t indeed perform on an even bar with the Phillies.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Tim Hudson was a very viable Cy Young candidate last year. Fully recovered from Tommy John, Hudson was outstanding. Hudson’s ERA+ was better than that of the mighty Cliff Lee last season. It’s likely he probably won’t repeat the performance this year, due in large part probably to a weaker defensive infield for the Braves. However, the good news is, he doesn’t have to.

Jair Jurrjens was hurt all year last year pretty much, never able to get going. Perhaps you forget that in 2009 he posted an ERA+ that was on par with Roy Halladay’s performance last year. It’s funny how many people forget how good he pitched in 2009. His performance in 2009 would be the ace of just about any staff in baseball, including this years Phillies rotation.

Derek Lowe did indeed struggle to begin the year, mightily in fact. However, some adjustments got made during the year, and the results cannot be argued with. In 10 of his last 14 starts, including both in the playoffs, Lowe allowed two runs or less. This cannot be ignored.

In the seasons final three months, Tommy Hanson allowed 3 earned runs or less in 15 of his 18 starts. In fact, in EIGHT of those starts he allowed one run or fewer. In 25 of his 34 starts Hanson allowed two earned runs or fewer. That’s 5 more times of 2 or fewer earned runs than one Roy Halladay.

Just some food for thought for those who think this Braves rotation can’t keep pace with the one in Philadelphia.

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Those Bitter Philadelphians

“The only NL East team truly capable of keeping the Phils out of the postseason isn’t found in an opposing dugout but in the mirrors of their own clubhouse.” Those are the words of Bob Ford, sports writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and well, a very uninformed baseball man.

The Atlanta Braves are six games ahead of the Phillies simply because they are a better team. Ford does his very best to belittle the accomplishments of the Braves and to make them appear as just a mediocre team lucky to be in first place, but it is either because he’s only paid attention to the Braves when they are playing his beloved Phillies, or it’s because he’s a typical Philadelphia fan who is completely blind to the sports world outside of his wonderful city full of peace, love, and harmony.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We know Philadelphia natives would much rather bash, and bemoan their own players than dare give credit to an opponent. They would much rather boo their players and coaches and trash their management officials than acknowledge that someone else just might be better.

For example, when discussing Brian McCann and Troy Glaus, Ford states that they, “have decent power numbers, but they are also easy outs.” Excuse me? He is aware that Ryan Howard makes outs at a more frequent rate than his first base counterpart Troy Glaus, correct? Perhaps not.

I guess he’s also completely unaware of the fact that Brian McCann boasts an on base percentage of .382. That’s all of one measly point behind Chase Utley, the current leader for Philadelphia among players with enough at-bats to qualify.

Furthermore on the Atlanta catcher, McCann’s production has spiked significantly as of late, and that’s not a coincidence that it has coincided with what seems to be a better solution for the vision troubles that plagued him early in the season. If Mr. Ford would actually pay attention to the teams he chooses to write about and dissect, he would have known this. Alas, this must not be the case.

Yeah, easy outs, right?

Maybe Ford has also chosen to ignore the little issue of the Braves having five players with over 200 plate appearances sitting with an OPS of over .800. Philadelphia’s apparently superior squad only has three such players.

Ford likes to cite the injuries and inconsistencies with Chipper Jones.. Okay, fair enough. However, last I checked, Chase Utley is currently hurt himself, and Jimmy Rollins spent quite a bit of time on the DL as well. So injuries to key cogs aren’t a problem for Philadelphia, just Atlanta?

In regards to Chipper Jones, Ford fails to recognize the surge in Jones’ power numbers since talk of retirement came up, as well as his still impressive .376 on base percentage. Ford’s ignorance doesn’t just end with the offense though, oh no, he’s an equal opportunity uninformed sports columnist.

While Ford does acknowledge that the Braves bullpen has been better, the credibility gained from at least admitting this is quickly lost with the next statement he makes. “The real question, though is whether, with one game to save, you would feel any more comfortable with (Billy) Wagner than you do with Brad Lidge. By the end of the season, the difference could be minuscule.”

Are you serious? One pitcher has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.9, 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings, a WHIP of 0.821, and ERA of 1.15. The other pitcher’s line reads of a 2.75 strikeout to walk ratio, 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a WHIP of 1.380 and an ERA of 4.32. Yeah, obviously this is an exceptionally close call. Of course, coming from the same man who called Troy Glaus an easy out while his own first basemen has proven to be an easier out this year, this should come as no surprise.

He rightfully refers to Tim Hudson as a staff ace, but, predictably picks apart the rest of the Braves rotation.

Derek Lowe’s high ERA is cited, which is fair enough, many Braves fans themselves have had issues with Lowe, though it should be noted that over his last seven starts Lowe’s ERA has been 3.27, including starts against the Twins, White Sox, and *ahem*, the Phillies where he went at least 7 innings while allowing 2 earned runs or less. Just thought that should be pointed out.

Ford’s questioning of Medlen’s ability to hold up down the stretch is a valid concern, as it will be interesting to see what happens to the youngster with a much heavier work load being heaped on him. However, this is simply Ford’s way to discount what has been a very, very impressive first half for Medlen, and of course, no Philadelphia person ever wants to recognize the strengths of any opponent if they can help it.

It is true that Tommy Hanson does indeed have a 4.19 ERA. However, let’s not get crazy here, 4.19 is not THAT bad. After all, the Phillies team ERA is an amazingly low 4.09. Oh wait, it’s not that low after all, is it? Keep in mind that in Hanson’s last 10 outings, he’s allowed two runs or less in seven of them. Some really, really, horrendous outings have marred Hanson’s season, and there is no question the pitcher who has barely been in the big leagues for over a year needs to be more consistent. However, more often than not, he’s been a very effective starter. Again, if Mr. Ford would look at the big picture and not just one simple stat, this might become apparent.

The more interesting case though is his dismissal of Jair Jurrjens as a front line starter. His description of Jurrjens reminds us that he’s, “just back from the disabled list and carrying around a 4.75 ERA.”

Indeed, Jurrjens is fresh off the disabled list, all the more reason to further discount that abnormally high of his. Since his return, Jurrjens has pitched just like his usual, ace of the staff type self. He’s 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA and the league has an OBP of .300 in those three outings.

Once again, Ford simply looks at the ERA and uses that to discount how good Jurrjen is, and really, has been, this season. There was that nightmare of a start against San Diego in April where he was rocked for eight runs. However, aside from that dismal outing, he hasn’t given up more than three runs in any other start all season (granted, one of those was when he allowed three in the opening frame, coincidentally, the game he injured himself and went on the DL).

Mr. Ford can look at a few numbers here and there, and nothing else, and convince himself the Braves aren’t for real all he wants. He can convince himself the Phillies just have to play to their potential and they’ll return to their rightful place atop the National League East. If he were to look for the rest of the story, he’d clearly see otherwise. Not that he’d admit it though.

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