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.



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.


Here is the same graph for today’s roster:



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.