Enter Sandman

Posted by Lance Burson on July 18th, 2010

Sleep with one eye open Gripping your pillow tight
Exit light Enter night Take my hand We’re off to never-never land – Metallica

When the song plays and this good ole boy from rural Virginia runs out of the bullpen, you know the other team is gripping. Billy Wagner, the closer for the Atlanta Braves doesn’t just have a cool theme song, he may very well be, with all apologies to second baseman Martin Prado, the Braves most valuable player this season.

Standing, maybe, 5’9″, without spikes, Wagner doesn’t look indtimidating. Yet, his left arm is crippling hitters and has been for 16 seasons. Wagner has been a productive closer for Houston, Philadelphia and New York. His 2010 season in Atlanta, supposedly his final one may be his finest.

This afternoon at Turner Field, the Braves had built an 11-3 lead late in the game. Struggling mop up man Jesse Chavez had been employed to get the final six outs. Suddenly the score was 11-6 in the 9th inning, as Chavez was getting shelled. Billy wagner had not worked for 4 days, and thought he would get another one off. Instead Bobby Cox asked Wagner to come in a non-save situation.   Eight pitches later, six of them strikes, Wagner had the final two outs and the Braves earned a split of a four game series with Milwaukee. It was typical Billy Wagner, 2010.

Wagner is 5-0 with 21 saves in 24 opportunites. In 39 games covering 39 innings, he’s struck out 58 hitters. His 0.83 WHIP is his lowest in 11 years, which was his “peak” as a closer with Houston. Arm surgery over a year a go was supposed to have brought on the twilight of Wagner’s career, yet he made the all star team this season after announcing he would retire. He turns 39 year old next week, July 25th.

As the Braves enter the final two months of the season, it will be Billy Wagner who decides how much of a factor the Braves will be late in games against Philadelphia and New York.

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The Yunel Domino

Posted by Lance Burson on July 14th, 2010

The Braves were going to make changes to the roster in the second half of the season. While they hold solid leads over the Mets and Phillies, it was apparent to thos who watched the Braves closely, upgrades to the offense would be needed, but the outfield was thought to be the focus. During the Mets series, Frank Wren and Bobby Cox decided that the shortstop shoe needed to drop first.

Yunel Escobar is a talented big league player. He can make beautiful plays in the field. He can run the bases with grace. He can work a pitcher to a 3-2 count, then take his best pitch and gap a double. What Yunel Escobar could not do, at least for the Braves, was grow up. During this last Mets series he hit a ball deep in the gap and was almost thrown out at second, With his speed he should have rounded third, yet he was admiring his work. Then he took a routine ground ball, charged it and casually flipped the throw into a running Jeff Francouer causing Troy Glaus to injure his wrist in the collision with the former Brave. That was Yunel. Good player who did dumb stuff. He would make a great play at short, then throw ridiculously to a base. he would miss signs then hit balls no one else could by waiting on pitches. He would jump up and down in the on deck circle, last year he injured himself and missed 16 games. Yunel would beg out of the lineup with minor injuries while his teammates would patch themselves with athletic tape and bandaids and play through pain. He would often show up later than anyone else for batting pratice, then take extra cuts without asking. Yunel was a loner in the clubhouse.In 2007 and 2008 when he did this, it was fine. He was producing and helping the team win. His numbers were excellent. In 2009, it looked like he was taking the step to superstardom then small, weird injuries caused him to miss games. For the first 80 games of 2010, Yunel wasn’t producing. His average was consistently below .240. His slugging disappeared. For every one good at bat, he’d have 4 awful ones. Then the non hustling and the stupid stuff happened.

This year’s Braves roster is different. People are getting along. The Francouer stress is in New York. The veterans are in your face good ole boys Billy Wagner, Troy Glaus, Eric Hinske, and Chipper Jones. Yunel’s time was short.

Toronto took a phone call. That were willing to give Yunel a try. Alex Gonzales is 6 years older, 33, but having his best offensive year with 17 homeruns and over 50 rbi. Gonzalez is a short term fit waiting for shortstop prospects to get here in 2012. Gonzalez’ contract calls for a reasonable 2011 option of 2.5 million dollars. The prospects swapped seem bright. Jo Jo Reyes, who was never making the Braves rotation, is now gone.

Short term, this deal helps Atlanta a lot. The Yunel distraction is gone. A real pro, who too impatient at the plate, but plays hard and professionally takes over at short for at least a year. Long term this deal could be bad, especially if Yunel grows up and turns into a Hanley Ramirez talent for the Blue Jays.

I hope outfield help is on the way. The first move is a shocker. It works right now for this team.

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Happy Birthday Tim Hudson

Posted by Lance Burson on July 14th, 2010

Born on this date , July 14th, in 1975, in Columbus, Georgia. Hudson recognizes his 35th with an off day before starting a series in Atlanta with the Milwaukee Brewers. Hudson is having a terrific season, 9-4 with a 2.30 era with landed him a spot on the 2010 All Star team. His 2009 included Tommy John Surgery. Hudson is poised to win at least 17 games this season thus giving him a very good chance to win 200 games over for his career sometime in 2012. Although Derek Lowe is paid as the “ace” of the staff, Hudson has been the number one starter for Atlanta this season, and his turning 35 doesn’t seem to be affecting him. Happy Birthday to the former Auburn Tiger, Oakland Athletic and current Atlanta Brave.

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Olly Olly Outfielder Free

Posted by Lance Burson on July 14th, 2010

So I did not get my Cliff Lee doll for for Independence Day. Good for you Ranger fan, your team just secured a slot in the American League playoffs and the Braves do not have to face Cliff Lee. Time for plan B.

The Braves need power in the lineup and another outfielder that can provide offense and defense in left field or centerfield. As we have seen in recent games, Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz are fine situational hitters, but their defensive liabilities can cost runs that can lose games. Centerfield remains an enigma. Melky Cabrera has been hot (his average has climbed 45 points in seven seeks) and Melky had played all three outfield positions ok. Just ok. He’s a fourth outfielder. Nate McLouth’s nightmare season contunes in rehab starts at Gwinnett. He is tearing up minor league pitching while getting over a concussion. The problem with nate is, as we have seen when he was healthy, his speed and power combination is not working in a Braves uniform. I have heard him referred to as the new Reggie Sanders, the former Braves outfielder who after several successful season with the Reds and Padres was traded to Atlanta and fell flat on his face with a .232 avg 11 hr 37 rbi. The season was so awful for Reggie, he spent time on the DL and was a bench player in the playoffs. Nate faces the same fate. I don’t see things working for McLouth in Atlanta.

The Braves need consistent play froma legitimate major league outfielder who can play every day, with a high fielding percentage and provide homeruns and rbi in either the 4th, 5th or 6th spot in the lineup. He would take pressure off an aging Chipper, ailing Troy Glaus, and beat up Brian McCann. I nominate three guys.

Corey Hart is the most talked about candidate. The pros for Corey are obvious. The Brewer is an all star. His 2010 numbers are terrific at .288 21 65. His 2009 scared me because he was hurt and ended with .260 12 48. He hit 20 and 24 homers in 2008 and 2007 respectively. That con along with Hart natural position being right field, which he plays with recklessness is a turn off. Jason Heyward is the Braves right fielder and the corner stone of the franchise. Do you really want him or Hart to meet to a new position during the most important part of the season. Hart will be eligible for free agence and looking for at least 12million a year. It’s unlikely, even with Chipper retiring, they’d pay that. So you are probably renting a 28 year old player.

Cody Ross has been on the Braves radar for 3 seasons. he’s versatile, slick fielding, and durable outfielder. he can play all three positions and currently switches between center and right for the Marlins. he is a patient, contact hitter that can provide twenty plus homeruns and about 80 or so rbi a year. Ross is 30 years old and only 5’10″. he plays hard, but with his average size and average numbers, this season he’s .282 7 46, you aren’t upgrading much over what you have. Ross does play every day, avoids injury, and can play all 3 outfield positions. His 2009 was good; .270 24 90. He may have peaked as a player. So what you see is what you get.

The final nomination is my favorite one. Josh Willingham is the left fielder for the Washington Nationals. He should have made the All Star team but a small slump before the break and so much attention being paid to teammates Stephen Strasburg and Adam Dunn (who will be traded soon) took scrutiny away from Willingham. I’ve liked Josh since his Marlins days. He’s a consistent 25 homer 90 rni guy. His numbers this year are .281 15 46. He’s the best fielder of these three. Josh is 31 years old and would not command as much money as Corey Hart or Josh’s teammate Adam Dunn. Willingham is consistent, plays the position the Braves need an upgrade, and he’s signable.

Depending on which baseball “insider” you believe, any of these three outfielders can be had for one or two top minor league prospects. Lefty pitcher Mike Minor and outfielder Cody Johnson could land any of them. I would like to se Josh Willingham holding down left field very soon. Let’s hope the Braves feel the same way.

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Free Omar Infante

Posted by Lance Burson on July 4th, 2010

All Star Game selections were announced this weekend. The Atlanta Braves placed five men on the 2010 squad. Catcher Brian McCann, second baseman and National League hits leader as well as batting average leader, Martin Prado, injured rookie right fielder Jason Heyward, who despite a casted thumb, may play, right handed pitcher Tim Hudson and utility man Omar Infante. You read that correctly, Omar Infante. I was surprised as the rest of you by his selection made by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. Infante has battled injury but is hitting .311 with one homerun and 22 rbi in just 164 at bats. That’s the rub with Infante. He has just 176 plate appearances, not enough to qualify for the batting title. He also does not have a position on the Atlanta Braves. He has played left field, shortstop, second base and third base. Backlash against Manuel’s selection has been swift, harsh, and abundant. Jeff Passan, yahoosports.com’s baseball blogger has called the pick of Omar, “the worst All-Star ever”. Ah, hyperbole is the battle cry of the internet isn’t it? Passan’s overreaction is expected. He’s a national writer who works out of the southwest. The vitriol provided by Braves bloggers and Atlanta media is what is puzzling. Omar Infante didn’t get elected by the fans. He didn’t select himself. Phillies’ skipper Charlie Manuel likes the cut of Omar’s gib, go get him. Personally I think arguing All-Star game selections is as pointless and inane as arguing Academy Award snubs but since the web critics are all over this subject, let’s jump into the deep end of the pool.

Omar Infante isn’t the worst all star ever. He isn’t even the worst Atlanta Brave all star. In 1978, Biff Pocoroba was named to the NL squad. Yeah, that Biff Pocoroba. The Braves’ part time catcher joined Jeff Burroughs and Phil Niekro in San Diego that year. So Biff wasn’t the obligatory have to name someone from each team pick. Pocoroba hit .262 with 4 homeruns 24 rbi in 229 at bats scoring just 16 runs in 61 games during the first half of 1978. Not exactly Mike Piazza or Brian McCann caliber, huh?

In 1981 and 1983, Braves’ catcher Bruce Benedict made the NL all star game. 1981 was a weird year with the game coming after the stupid strike, yet Bruuuuuuuce wasn’t tearing up baseball that season. His first half was a .287 average 3 long balls 22 rbi in just 167 at bats in but 50 games. In 1983 Benedict made it hitting just .279 with only 1 homer 20 rbi in 70 games. Second baseman and current Braves’ first base coach, the diminutive Glenn Hubbard got picked that year too. He was stroking .300 with 5 homers and 37 rbi in 73 games.

The two players that we really need to look at are Walt Weiss, Braves shortstop in 1998 and Greg Olson, a rookie 30 year old journeyman catcher in 1990. Weiss in ’98 was 34 years old, at the end of a good career. He surprisingly hit .312 in the first half but had no homeruns only 18rbi in just 60 games. Olson was the real head scratcher. One year away from the Braves miraculous run to Minnesota, Olson was the only Braves all star in 1990. Recently picked up off the minor league scrap heap, Olson hit .289 in the first half with 6 homers 25 rbi 20 runs scored in just 166 at bats.

So in review, Omar ranks fifth all time statiscally of Braves selected who shouldn’t have been in the all star game. Biff Pocoroba, Greg Olson, Bruce Benedict and Walt Weiss all have cases that are stronger that they were worse Atlanta all stars than Omar.

Leave the utility man alone. On June 2nd, he beat the Phillies in front of Manuel. That made some impression. I wouldn’t be surprised in Omar pinch hit or played a utility role and factored into a National League win. Infante, worst All Star ever? Please. Someone sounds like a blogger.

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Lee is The Key To Second Half Victory

Posted by Lance Burson on July 1st, 2010

You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free – Paul Simon

Last year the Philadeplia Phillies listened to everyone say that their main issue was their bullpen. Brad Lidge was imploding. Ryan Madsen never seemed ready to take over. Instead, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro surveyed his rotation and bench, saw holes, got sick of waiting on Toronto’s now ex GM JP Riccardi to pull the trigger on Roy Halladay and called Cleveland . He landed left handed starter, and former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, along with backup power hitting outfielder for four minor leaguers on July 19th. Lee went 7-4, Francisco was solid off the pine, and the Phillies won another NL East crown, and eventually fell to the New York Yankees 4 game to 2 in the World Series. This wasn’t Cliff Lee’s first time helping a team in the second half of a season. In June of 2002, he left Lee left the Montreal Expos for the Cleveland Indians for Bartolo Colon, and blossomed into the star he is today. Lee is with Seattle now, having a fine year on a bad team. The Atlanta Braves need to ignore those calling for a centerfielder, a left fielder, or even relief pitching. The Braves need a starting pitcher. The Braves need Cliff Lee.

At first glance Atlanta seems fine concerning their rotation. A deeper look reveals the rotation if the team’s weak link. Tim Hudson has been terrrific. He is 8-3 with a 2.37 era. Jair Jurrgens came back in his last start after being out since April with a groin problem and a hamstring injury. He was good throwing 5 plus innings against the Nationals. Jurrgens will need three our four starts to stretch himself into 7 plus innings horse the Braves need. After those two pitchers, the Braves have issues. Kris Medlen has been the enxt best pitcher going 4-1 filling in for Jurrgens, knocking 1-9 Kenshin Kawakami out of the rotation. The two concerns are Tommy Hanson and 15 million dollar man, alleged number one starter, Derek Lowe. Lowe is 9-6 but his era is a gaudy 4.53, giving up 102 hits in 101 innings. Hanson has been the real enigma. After finishing second in the rookie of the year voting to Phillies starter JA Happ last season with an 11-4 record and a 2.89 era. This season, Hanson has looked lost at times going 7-5 with a 4.50 era. In his last two starts he has pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing 14 earned runs. The important issue to bring up about the Braves rotation is Hudson, Lowe, Medlen, Hanson and Jurrgens throw right handed. In late season matchups against the Mets and Phillies they have no left handed arm to combat the left handed stars of those teams. Cliff Lee proved last season he can handle that job.

Roughly 4 million dollars is owed Lee for the rest of the season. He has commented that being a rent-a-player is not an issue for him. Yje Braves possess the minor league position players and the minor league pitchers the Mariners would request. The Braves have to show they are serious in their final season with Bobby Cox as manager and likely final season with Chipper Jones playing third base about winning a championship. Shoring up a pitching staff with a proven winner, lefty Cliff Lee, is the right decision to make.

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Prospect Rankings Review

Posted by Connor Tapp on January 25th, 2010

When it comes to the Braves’ farm system, everyone agrees that Jason Heyward is far and away the best prospect in the system (and maybe anyone else’s system, for that matter), that there is a scarcity up-the-middle talent, and that there is a wealth of high-upside power arms.

Potential 2010 MLBers:
Jason Heyward (RF)
Craig Kimbrel (RP)

High-upside power arms:
Julio Teheran (RHP)
Arodys Vizcaino (RHP)
Randall Delgado (RHP)

Check out what some of my favorite publications have to say about the Braves’ minor league talent:

Baseball Prospectus
Fan Graphs
Baseball America

And for an in-depth look at prospecs from around the league, check out the Minor League Baseball Analyst.

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Player Profile: Peter Moylan

Posted by Connor Tapp on January 20th, 2010

The Braves avoided salary arbitration with Peter Moylan on Tuesday by re-signing him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

The 31-year-old right-handed reliever had a career-best season in 2009, his first since he missed all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Moylan is a side-armer who feeds batters a steady diet of fastballs with a slider thrown in about once every four pitches.

To be worth the $1.5 million he is owed in 2010, Moylan would need to provide value equal to 0.43 Wins Above Replacemnt (assuming a marginal win value of $3.5 million). Peter’s a good bet to be at least that good in 2010, even if some regression from a career-best season (1.5 WAR in 2009) is to be expected.

In keeping with what we’ve seen from post-TJers in th past, Moylan had some control issues in the first half of the season, walking batters at a rate of 5.4 batters every nine innings. But a ground ball rate of 65% over that same period was his salvation, while his control improved (3.6 BB/9) in the second half while still inducing a high rate of grounders on balls in play (61%).

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Wednesday’s Braves Buzz

Posted by Connor Tapp on January 6th, 2010

Mark Bowman spent some time rationalizing the Braves’ bean counting.

Fan Graphs looked at Atlanta’s recent draft performance.

J.C. Bradbury weighed in on the Eric Hinske and Troy Glaus signings.

Tags: Braves Buzz
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Tuesday’s Braves Buzz

Posted by Connor Tapp on January 5th, 2010

The Troy Glaus signing was formally announced on Tuesday.

Aside from adding a pinch-hitter/fourth outfielder (Don’t we have plenty of those already?), the Braves don’t expect to make any more moves this off season. This would seem to kill speculation that the Braves might make a run at Johnny Damon should his asking price drop.

Adrian Beltre, a player I thought might be a good fit for the Braves, signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Matt Swartz of Baseball Prospectus looked at how MLB teams assemble their rosters (subscription required). The Braves seemed to be among the best at balancing young, cheap talent with free agents.

Tags: Braves Buzz
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