Monday, October 25, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - CF, LF (Trades)

So, if none of the free agent options work, Frank Wren may look at the trade market. This will involve even more speculation on my part, mainly because the Braves front office has a history of making deals outside of the conventional rumor mill. But I’ll offer my thoughts.

First, the Braves have a heavy minor league/prospect pitching surplus to deal from. I think the team’s only ‘untouchables’ are Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran (and Craig Kimbrel, if you think he’d be in the discussion). I’d be hesitant to make Randall Delgado available, but if the price is right, who knows. The team has a number of at or near MLB-ready starting pitchers to work with, including Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Scott Diamond and Todd Redmond. That doesn’t include Kenshin Kawakami who the Braves would certainly like to trade, but would likely be done in a salary relief move. As has been discussed, perhaps Jair Jurrjens could also be offered. He wouldn’t bring too much salary relief, but he’s under team control through 2013 and at just 24 years old is already 37-27 with a 3.52 ERA. He would likely decrease some of the salary the Braves might have to eat up in a trade, leaving funds available to maybe sign Javier Vazquez to a one-year deal as a 4th starter?

Looking at position players, the team could also look to include Nate McLouth in a deal to free up some cash. If that were to happen, perhaps Gwinnett’s Matt Young could/would be given a chance to start? Young has experience in both LF and CF put up an impressive .300/.380/.407 line in 2010. He certainly wouldn’t be a power threat, but his 39 stolen bases this season could add a speed dimension to the 2011 Braves, similar to what Brett Gardner has done for the Yankees (another NY team reference, see what happens when you live here???).

So, in alphabetical order, who could the Braves target?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - CF, LF (Free Agency)

I had hoped to write just one entry focusing on CF and LF, but's it's clear that I had way too much to say. So this post will sum up free agency possibilities while the next will look at the trade market.

CF - Nate McLouth?
LF - X

You can basically write an entire book analyzing these two positions for the 2011 Braves. Let’s lay out the facts first and then go on to the speculation from there. First, all of Braves Country rejoiced earlier last week when Frank Wren non-tendered Melky Cabrera. The ‘should be’ 4th/5th outfielder started 115 games in the outfield for Atlanta, second only behind Jason Heyward’s 136. Trade-deadline acquisition Rick Ankiel has a $6m option for next season with a $500k buy out. Ankiel’s worth nowhere near that option figure, so the Braves will cough up the half million to get rid of him. So, working on the pretty solid assumption that Matt Diaz isn’t a starter, that creates one starting outfielder vacancy. Next, Nate McLouth is signed through 2011 (with a club option for ’12) at $6.5m (a $2m increase over his ’10 salary), so he will somehow play a part in the team’s plans for next year. Despite earning an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove just two years ago, McLouth’s rough 2010 season makes that $6.5m salary look pretty expensive. He’s still relatively young, so he could be shopped around as a trade possibility. That, combined with his ability to play both LF and CF, effectively put both starting positions into play for the Braves in 2011.

Now for the speculation. Atlanta has an obvious need for a power-type bat, preferably one who hits right-handed as Heyward, McCann and Freeman are all lefties. The two ‘big’ outfield free agents are Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford. Crawford is a lefty (and not exactly a ‘power’ bat) and both, barring any significant changes/unknowns, are prohibitively expensive. Because of the limited options, they will likely each earn a $100m+ contract. So, let’s take a wide-ranging look at the (possible) free agents who could be on the Braves’ radar. There are a number of factors, but I’m guessing the Braves will have $6m-$10m to ‘spend’ in 2011 on a new outfielder. The centerfield FA list is pretty meager (considering about a third of that list is either Melky or Ankiel), unless you think Coco Crisp is the savior to the team’s OF problems. There are a handful of non-CF outfield options, so, in alphabetical order:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, RF

I was originally planning on having this post focus on the entire starting line-up for the 2011 Braves. But after sketching out my thoughts, I realized that Atlanta's CF/LF situation really deserves a post of its own. So, here we'll take a look at the Braves starters for '11, outside of those two outfield positions.

Brian McCann
Chipper Jones
Jason Heyward
Martin Prado
Freddie Freeman
Alex Gonzalez?

Brian McCann is signed through 2012 (club option in ’13) and will make $6.5m in 2011 as the Braves catcher. Chipper Jones is also signed through 2012 (also with a club option in ’13) and is set to make $13m at 3B. Chipper will be coming back from a torn ACL, which obviously isn’t easy to do, but I think most of us hope/expect him to be ready to go at the start of the season. Jason Heyward will be the team’s right fielder as he begins his sophomore year in 2011. Martin Prado will be entering his first arbitration year. Although he battled injuries in the second half this season, he’ll be back at 2B for 2011. The All-Star will probably be signed at a small raise over his $440k ’10 salary.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Bench

My next focus for the 2011 team is the bench. This was another strong part for the Braves this year. But while they proved to be solid pinch hit and fill-in options, the multitude of Atlanta injuries showed that they mostly aren’t everyday options. Let's take a look...

David Ross
Omar Infante
Brooks Conrad
Matt Diaz?
Eric Hinske?

David Ross will obviously be back after signing an extension through the 2012 season. I expect Omar Infante to be back in 2011. While I wouldn’t expect him to hit .321 and be named to the All-Star team again next year, his defensive utility (played 3B, SS, 2B, RF and LF in ’10) makes his $2.5m club option more than affordable. I think we’ll probably see Brooks Conrad again as well. After Martin Prado went down in late September, Conrad showed us all he’s not a regular starter. But his defense, while certainly nowhere near great, is better than the endless errors he committed over his last 8 or 10 games. He’s a switch hitter and showed some decent pop (.487 SLG) in a mainly pinch-hitting role. At less than $500k, I think he brings enough to the team to be brought back.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Bullpen

Following up on yesterday's post on the 2011 starting rotation, we'll now take a look at the Braves bullpen situation. The 'pen was a definite strength of the team this season and despite the retirement of future-Hall of Fame closer Billy Wagner, there's much promise for another solid season from the relivers in 2011.

Craig Kimbrel
Jonny Venters
Eric O’Flaherty
Michael Dunn
Peter Moylan

Assuming these 5 pitchers (who are all still under team control) will be there, Atlanta has 2 spots left to fill. Based on the numbers, both should probably be righties. I think Cristhian Martinez performed well enough to earn a spot, though Stephen Marek had a tremendous season at Mississippi/Gwinnett, so I’d be more than comfortable with him as well. That decision could very well come down to Spring Training performance. I would expect/hope Scott Proctor not to be signed again. That leaves one spot left. Takashi Saito’s age and injuries probably rule him out. Kyle Farnsworth’s $5.25m club option for 2011 is way too much, so the Braves should buy him out at $250k. He could be a decent option at a couple million dollar price, but I don’t think the Braves go that route. So that likely means free agency. The team could use some sort of veteran late-inning/set-up presence, similar to Saito’s role this year. I would guess the Braves have about $3m to spend for this spot.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Your 2011 Atlanta Braves - Starting Rotation

While the Giants/Phillies and Rangers/Yankees are battling it out for a shot at the Fall Classic, the Braves 2011 season has started. Frank Wren has less than 6 months to set-up a roster that can improve on this year’s NL Wild Card campaign. Yes, there’s plenty of reason to suggest that the Braves could have gone deeper into the playoffs (and possibly even held off the Phillies for the NL East title) if injuries hadn’t devastated the team, especially in the second half of the season. A torn ACL limited Chipper Jones to 95 games, multiple injuries cost Martin Prado a month’s worth of the season, Tommy John surgery allowed Kris Medlen just 14 starts and the list can go on and on.

But while the return of those players should help benefit the club, based on their 2010 production, some moves obviously need to be made to improve the team’s offensive production and consistency. The defense was certainly an area for concern over the last few months, but I think the return of Jones and Prado and the addition of Freddie Freeman (Derrek Lee was great, but Troy Glaus was just tough to watch) will help make sure the defense is no longer a serious liability.

Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at the different options and possibilities for the 2011 Braves' 1) starting pitching, 2) bullpen, 3) starting fielders and 4) bench. Most of the statistic/contract information will come from Baseball-Reference and Cot's Baseball Contracts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Goodbye Bobby

Well that stung. The Braves dropped games 3 and 4 at Turner Field after their 11th inning win in game 2 to end their NLDS run, their 2010 season and Bobby Cox’s career. The countless injuries made it clear that the Braves team that battled in the playoffs was just a shell of the team that got them there. Even still, the team was this close to advancing past the San Francisco Giants. Yes, they dropped the series 3 games to 1, but each loss was by just 1 run and the team really had the pitching to win the World Series trophy.

Taking a look at the numbers, Atlanta pitchers posted a lethal 1.95 ERA and allowed the Giants to put up just 2.75 runs per game. Unfortunately, the offense managed an uninspiring .175 batting average while the defense committed a fatal 7 total errors. (As an aside, those stats are remarkably similar to the Phillies’ sweep of the Braves in PHI..2.33 ERA, 3 runs per game allowed, .178 batting average). In the 3 losses, Atlanta pitchers had miniscule 1.38 ERA. It’s really amazing that the team managed to drop those match-ups with a number like that, but that’s what so many errors will do to you. The series was exactly as advertised. Both teams had stellar pitching and both teams had little to no offense, but the Giants’ defense was much more reliable than the Braves’.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Instant Replay Can Work (Posey Edition)

The Braves dropped Game 1 of their NLDS match-up against the San Francisco Giants Thursday night by way of a 1-0 pitchers' duel. Another dominant performance by Atlanta hurlers wasted. As has already been talked about ad nauseum, the Giants’ lone run was scored by rookie Buster Posey following a controversial steal of second base. Replays clearly showed Brooks Conrad tagged Posey well before the Giant reached the bag. The now-necessary fourth out provided Cody Ross with the opportunity to drive in Posey with a groundball single that somehow got past Omar Infante at third.

To start, let me make my thoughts clear: the Braves offense lost this game, not the second base umpire. Atlanta hitters managed just two hits (both doubles) and one walk against Tim Lincecum while going 0-5 with RISP and striking out 14 times. You don’t win any baseball games when you score zero runs. Plain and simple. Yes, if Posey was correctly called out at second and everything else remained the same, the game would have gone to at least the bottom of the 9th (and possibly extra innings) tied 0-0. But what from Braves hitters made you think they were going to score at all? I felt as if the end result was a bit inevitable. Didn’t matter if it was Posey scoring the only run in the 4th or a walk-off home run in the 14th.

But what the game/call did do was push me enough to lay out my thoughts on instant replay. First, I’ve been for instant replay since it’s been seriously discussed for the past few years. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski has a great article this morning about how ‘bad’ calls are now the main issue threatening the integrity of the game. From gambling, to race, to to blown calls. The debate has gotten louder over the past year with the numerous errors in last year’s playoffs, Jim Joyce’s blown call on Armando Galarraga’s should-be perfect game and now all the missed calls that we’ve already seen in the first few days of the 2010 postseason. There’s no easy solution to the issue. But when the 50,000 people in the stadium and the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people watching on TV around the world know that an important and decisive call was flat out wrong, then the status quo is simply no longer acceptable. It becomes difficult to believe in the game when millions of people can easily pin point umpiring errors that, in the end, had a significant impact on the outcome of the contest.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Braves vs. Giants: An NLDS Statistical Preview

With the Braves squeezing into the playoffs for the first time since 2005, there are plenty of websites, articles, blogs, etc. previewing the series. I'll give my quick two cents, but this post is mainly to provide a 'one stop shop' of statistical comparison (thanks to Baseball Reference!) between the 2010 NL West champion San Francisco Giants and the NL Wild Card winner Atlanta Braves.

These are two relatively similar teams. Both are built with great pitching and usually have just enough offense to win. The Atlanta offense is noticeably weaker than it could have been, with both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado done for the year. This will make the task even tougher against the three-headed monster of Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez. The Giants have a bit more offensive power and MUCH better defense, but the Braves get on base more often. Giants pitchers strike out more opponents, but the Braves hurlers give up less free passes. This will be a very tough match-up for the Braves. Runs will be hard to come by, so Atlanta pitchers will have to be at the top of their game. Defense has been suspect all year, so it would certainly be a boost to see a clean effort. In order for Atlanta to advance, the hitters will have to tag the Giants rotation for a few early runs, continue to receive near-dominant efforts from Lowe, Hanson and Hudson and then pass off the one or two run lead to our tradionally strong bullpen to finish it up.

PREDICTION:  Braves in 5 (hey, this is a Braves blog..what did you expect?!). If Atlanta falls, I think the Giants will advance in 4.

Friday, October 1, 2010

All Possible Wild Card Outcomes: UPDATED x5

As the Braves begin play in just about an hour, I have laid out every single possible final win-loss outcome between the Padres/Giants and Braves with the subsequent Wild Card results below. I will plan on updating this post after each ATL and SD/SF game.

SD sweeps, ATL wins 0 - Braves lose Wild Card
SD sweeps, ATL wins 1 - Braves tie for Wild Card (with both SF and SD)
SD sweeps, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SD sweeps, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 0 - Braves tie for Wild Card (with SD)
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SD wins 2/3, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 0 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SF wins 2/3, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

SF sweeps, ATL wins 0 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 1 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 2 - Braves win Wild Card
SF sweeps, ATL wins 3 - Braves win Wild Card

16 12 9 4 2 1 final outcomes:
Braves win Wild Card - 13/16 (81%) 9/12 (75%) 6/9 (67%) 1/4 (25%) 1/2 (50%) 1/1 (100%)
Braves tie for Wild Card - 2/16 (13%) 2/12 (17%) 2/9 (22%) 2/4 (50%) 1/2 (50%) 0/0 (0%)
Braves lose Wild Card - 1/16 (6%) 1/12 (8%) 1/9 (11%) 1/4 (25%) 0/2 (0%) 0/0 (0%)