Braves League Rankings

As of the middle of the game, here are the Braves National League rankings.

Braves Runs Scores and ERA with League Averages - 4-15-15

Braves Season Averages and League Averages - 4-15-15

Braves Season Totals and League Averages - 4-15-15

 

What do we see?

  • The Braves offense has been outstanding, cutting way down on their strikeout rate from last year.  That has translated into grounding into a few more double plays, but they are leaving less runners on base than the league average as well.
  • Their home run totals no longer dominate the league, but with an average amount of home runs and an above average runs per game, the Braves are manufacturing runs at a better rate than the rest of the league.
  • The increased speed has meant a higher slugging percentage than the rest of the league, even when their home runs are right at the league average.

What are Juan Jaime’s chances of staying in the majors long-term?

Juan Jaime is your classic Rick Vaughn-style pitcher.  He has career numbers, averaged out to 162 games, that include 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings (great!) and 8.6 walks per nine innings (eek!).  For fun, I looked up on Baseball-Reference.com the list of all pitchers in major league history who had a season with at least these numbers.  The most innings ever pitched in such a season is John Parrish’s 2005 Oriole campaign, when he pitched 17 1/3 innings.  There are basically three kinds of players on this list, 1) Players who are not good at baseball and didn’t have long careers, 2) Players who normally do not pitch (Cardinal utility fielder Skip Schumaker made the list in 2011), and 3) Players who were going to be amazing with a bit more seasoning.

In the third category, the list includes Nolan Ryan’s 1966 season with the Mets (age 19), Sid Fernandez’s 1983 season with the Dodgers (age 20) and Chan Ho Park’s 1994 season with the Dodgers (age 21).

The list also includes a name well-known to long time Braves fans, Joey Devine’s 2006 season.

While yesterday’s game against the Mets wasn’t quite as bad as the numbers would indicate since the third walk was intentional, he was missing the strike zone.  I’m not a major league catcher, so I don’t know all of the subtleties of calling a game and framing pitches, but I would have preferred A.J. Pierzynski to put the glove down in the middle of the zone rather than asking the rookie to go for the corners.

The problem is familiar to those of us who play golf.  If you swing as hard as you can, you often drastically increase the chance of missing the fairway off the tee.  The magic zone seems to be swinging about 80-90% of your maximum effort.  If Jaime throws at 80-90% effort, he may be much more hittable.  He doesn’t have any secondary pitches.  His model may be the pitcher who started for the Mets, Bartolo Colon.  If Jaime falls behind, he needs to slow down the speed and try to hit a corner with his fastball.  He may not be able to do that in the middle of an at bat, and that may be the reason his career is shorter than it could be.

What kind of pitcher is Alex Wood?

It is certainly too early to make any definitive conclusions about Alex Wood, but his early career has been intriguing.  After being drafted in the 2nd round out of the University of Georgia, Wood crushed the minors.

AlexWoodCareerResultsByLevel

 

He started out for the Braves as a long reliever and spot starter in 2013.  By 2014 he was in the starting rotation, returning to the bullpen only to keep his annual innings pitched number low, to minimize long-term damage.  That doesn’t appear to be a concern any longer, as he threw 139 2/3 innings between all levels in 2013, and 180 in 2014.

How well has he done?  Well, here are all the pitchers in the majors since 2010 who have had a WAR of at least 3.7 for a season in which they were 23 or younger:

  • Alex Wood (2014)
  • Chris Sale (2012)
  • Clayton Kershaw (2010)
  • Clayton Kershaw (2011)
  • Jarrod Parker (2012)
  • Jhoulys Chacin (2011)
  • Jose Fernandez (2013)
  • Julio Teheran (2014)
  • Madison Bumgarner (2013)
  • Trevor Cahill (2010)

How did they do the following year?  They averaged a 3.8875 WAR, with the lowest being Jose Fernandez’s injury shortened 2013 season, which still resulted in 1.1 WAR.

If you browse around the pitch f/x data on BrooksBaseball.net, you may seem some evidence for my conclusions:

  • Alex can crank his sinking fastball up to 95-96 mph when he needs to, but averages around 91 mph when starting.
  • He only has three pitches, and his change-up has gone from average to slightly above average.
  • His curveball has changed, in the last few years, from a “I rarely throw it”, “I need a third pitch”, “It will shock them into not swinging pitch” into a devastating strikeout pitch that he throws more often than his change-up.

There’s a lot of great charts we could examine, but here are two illustrative examples from the site:

AlexWoodPitchPercentage

 

AlexWoodWhiffsPerSwingByPitchType

 

As you can see, the curveball went from the number three pitch to the number two pitch, and has been his best pitch for getting swings and misses from the batter.  The change-up remains a “fool them into not swinging” pitch when they expect the fastball.

Who knows where he’ll end up, but with a 4th-pitch and more experience, the sky is the limit.  Considering his effectiveness isn’t based on overwhelming velocity, his career could be long and productive.

What can be expected from Eric Stults?

As he starts for the first time for the Atlanta Braves this evening, let’s take a look at the stats for Eric Stults to see what we might expect from him as a pitcher.

  • He doesn’t have a huge number of innings pitched for a 34 year-old, so he might have more left in the tank than we might expect.  He only threw 804 2/3 innings in the 11 seasons between 2002 (when he was rafted out of Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana) and 2012.  He pitched 215 games in the minors, but only started 123 games.  He has only pitched 635 2/3 innings in the majors.  That being said, 34 is a bad place to be on the Pitching Aging Curves.

His minor league numbers are clear.  Here are some of his numbers broken down my minor league level:

EricStultsMinorLeagueByLevel

 

  • What we see from this chart is that his walks per 9 innings stay fairly consistent around the 3 level, which is just fine.  His WHIP went up slightly for each level, but his ERA shot up close to 5 for the AAA level.  We’ll see this trend in his major league stats as well.

Here are Eric’s major league numbers, compared to the major league averages for those numbers:

EricStultsAverageToMLBAverages

 

  • He strikes out less batters than the league average (SO%)
  • He gives up more slightly more extra-base hits for opponent plate appearance and opponent hit (XBH% and X/H%)
  • He is a flyball pitcher (Ground Ball/Fly Ball and Ground Out/Air Out)
  • He pitches to contact (In-play%)
  • He gives up a lot of line drives, but less than average of his Fly Balls become Home Runs (LD% and HR/FO).  This is probably due to playing in Dodger Stadium and Petco for much of his career.

Summary: Eric Stults is in the majors due to his control, and his ability to eat up innings (His Quality Start percentage the last three years has been 64%, 61%, and 44%).  He generally gives his team a fighting chance, but he rarely shuts the other team down.  (He was 8th in the majors in fewest walks per 9 inn. in 2013, but also gave up the 8th most runs that year.)  He will give up plenty of hits, but avoids the big inning by walking very few batters.  Best case scenario is a competent #4 or 5 starter.

Discussion – What (if anything) went wrong in the Frank Wren era?

Ken Rosenthal wrote a great piece breaking down the Braves’ offseason moves.  The thesis is that the problem may not have been the farm system, since it has produced so many great prospects that made it to the majors.

I agree the Braves farm system has been excellent, but those in the know seemed to think that the next five years don’t look as bright.  In addition, a key factor seemed to be interpersonal issues with their GM, Frank Wren.  Check out this story from Baseball America.  A key section:

“More than 22 years in the Braves organization, including 11 as scouting director, ended with Clark resigning over a “difference in philosophy” with the direction the Braves were headed under general manager Frank Wren.

When the Braves fired Wren and his assistant GM Bruce Manno in September and began restructuring their front office, all it took was one phone call from team president John Schuerholz to get Clark back.”

So it would seem that interpersonal issues made a big part in the decision to move on from Frank Wren.  In the final analysis, it seems as though a likely breakdown of “what went wrong” would go something like: 1) Wren’s inability to get along with colleagues, 2) Wren’s signing of big money free agents that flopped terribly, and 3) the Braves’ inability to replenish their farm system under Wren’s leadership.

A Visual Summary of A.J. Pierzynski’s Career

In recognition of A.J. Pierzynski‘s first home run as a Brave, we offer here a visual summary of his career.  The three lines show his Wins Above Replacement (WAR), his Offensive WAR and his Defensive WAR for each season from the records at BaseballReference.com.  Remember the rough idea is that 0 to 2 is a major league reserve (bench) player, 2 to 5 is a starter, 5 to 8 is all-star quality, and 8 and up is MVP quality.  So, a horizontal line at 0 would mean a player that could easily be replaced with a random professional a team might find on waivers.

PierzynskiCareer

 

A few observations:

  • A.J. has never been an amazing defensive player, but for the first half of his career, his overall contribution (WAR) was generally higher than his contribution on offense alone.  Since about 2007 his defense has been a liability, lowering his overall WAR below his offensive WAR.
  • For his career, he has been a fairly consistent 1-2 WAR player, with two all-star games (2002 and 2006), and as recently as 2012 he had an offensive WAR approaching 4.
  • Since he has averaged a little over $5 million in annual salary in the years after his rookie contract ended, he has been a fairly good bargain for his teams.  His 2015 salary with the Braves is $2 million.  He looks like even in limited time this season backing up Christian Bethancourt he has a shot to give the Braves at least a win for their investment.  He’ll likely be one of the Braves’ best pinch hitters as well.

Comparing the Salaries from the Last Two Opening Days

We’ll spend some time over the next couple of weeks unpacking the various deals the Braves made in the offseason, but let’s start with some big picture analysis.  First we see the salaries of the opening day roster last April, 2014.  Keep in mind that salaries reported on various websites like baseballreference.com and baseball prospectus are estimates, due to issues like the Giants paying Dan Uggla for the last couple of months, etc.  Only the Braves know for sure what they paid, but these should be roughly accurate.

2014-Salaries

Here is the same graph for today’s roster:

2015-Salaries

 

Obviously, there were lots of moving parts to the various moves the Braves made, but a few impressions can be made:

1) The Braves shed a lot of players who were being overpaid.  Justin Upton never matched his 2011 6.1 WAR season, and has been a 2.5-3 WAR player ever since.  That means he should be worth about 9-10 million a year (given the normal rough estimate of $3 million per WAR), but we was being paid much more.  Melvin (formerly B.J.) Upton was being paid $15 million a year to be a minor-league level player.  The Braves had to send along the best closer in the game (at 27 years old) just to get the Padres to take his money.  Ervin Santana was an emergency signing to deal with injuries last spring, and his $14 milion salary brought only 1.2 WAR.  Along with the Dan Uggla boondoggle, we see that the current Braves leadership is sacrificing to fix serious errors made by the previous General Manager.  The Braves were in a desperate “win now” mode, which resulted in a 79-83 record last season.  Clearly some housekeeping was necessary.

2) This graph doesn’t show future years, such as Heyward and Justin Upton being in the last year of a contract that will likely bring them a raise.  It also doesn’t show Freeman’s contract, which will increase every year until it reaches the $20 million annual range in a couple of years.  Yes, 2015 is the last season of the Uggla contract.

3) The Braves kept all of their home-grown starting pitchers, and acquired apparently high quality arms in return.  Except for possible exception of Minor (who has been great, but injury-prone), this group will likely continue to be bargains.

South End Grounds!

The actual South End Grounds (pictured in our logo) was built in 1871 by Ivers Adams, first owner of the franchise that would become the Braves.  They began play in the spring of that year as the Boston Red Stockings, and are now the oldest continuously operating franchise in Major League Baseball.  (The Cincinnati Reds are slightly older, but went out of business and reformed.)  The Boston Braves (as they were eventually known) played in South End Grounds until 1914, when they moved to Fenway Park, which is of course still around as the home of the Boston Red Sox.

This blog is dedicated to that team, and acknowledges all of the various double-meanings in its name.  You will find on this page arguments, evidence (or grounds) for arguments, and discussion of the team that is the unofficial team (with respect to fans of the Florida teams) of the south end of the United States.