Category: Atlanta Braves

Do The Braves Have a Heyward “Obsession” ?

There are lots of reasons for playing lots of different players and all of them come with a unique set of circumstances. Some players are written into the line up card because they provide speed or power, some because they are the leaders of their respective ball clubs and others are just in their because they make too much money to sit on the bench despite their struggles.

But when Fredi Gonzalez inks in Jason Heywards name into the line up card what reason is he giving himself? Is he playing Jason for his ability to help this ball club win baseball games? Is he putting him out there so that he can work through his struggles? Or is he putting him out there because he’s Jason Heyward and he’s supposed to be a franchise player for the next decade and a half?

Certain players bring a certain element to the game that isn’t on the field related. A certain element that is based more on emotion then it is on factual information. We are only a brief way into this 2013 season and it’s too early to be labeling anyone as a success or failure for the season and I won’t even attempt to do that. However I can bring some issues I see with Heyward to the surface of this argument that I’m going to present to you guys.

Since before Heyward even saw a pitch in the Major Leagues he was a Braves icon. There was so much excitement and hype around him that blew even Freddie Freeman’s move to the big leagues out of the water. Freddie Freeman, despite often out performing Jason Heyward does not gather the same type of enthusiasm.

Maybe it’s because on paper Jason Heyward is almost a perfect a athletic specimen. He stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 240lbs. He can field his position, throw out base runners, hit for average, hit for power and the man can run like a deer despite his large frame. There are very few baseball players that look as good as Jason does on paper.

Unfortunately baseball games are not won on paper they are won on the diamond with excellent team and player performances on a nightly basis. And I believe that things may be getting a little too comfortable for Mr. Heyward. Being penciled into the line up card night in and night out despite his struggles and on top of that has not even been dropped out of the 2 hole yet.

Fredi is dealing with the pressure to play Heyward because he can not appear to give up on the team’s franchise player. There’s the energy surrounding the Upton, Upton and Heyward outfield. The only issue is one Upton is playing excellent baseball, the other Upton gets paid too much money to bench and Heyward is neither of those two things.

With Heyward under performing from a statistical stand point and only making 3.6 million from a financial aspect, the Braves could exercise the option of sitting Heyward. Now if any of you are arguing that no one has ever gotten better by sitting on the bench and missing at bats, you’re absolutely right but I’m not sure that’s Jason’s entire issue.

I think the Braves have possibly made it a little to comfortable for Jason in Atlanta. Always putting him in the line up and generally speaking batting him in a critical part of the line up ( the top 3rd) is sending him the message that he is guaranteed to occupy that spot no matter what the results may be.

But what if the Braves took a different approach with Heyward and Fredi put him in a position where he competed for playing time and competed for at bats with the other outfielders. Several situations come to mind of how Fredi could handle this in the near future.

Drop Heyward to 6th or 7th: When Jason was put in the bottom part of the order last season he thrived and basically tore the cover off the ball for weeks on end. He was hitting for a solid average and showing off his power while driving in runs. A lot of his success last season came from the lower part of the order and the reason he got moved back up to the top of the order was because of his excellent performance in the 6th spot. Not sure if he’s more comfortable there or if it’s a lower pressure situation (only Jason knows this) but he does seem to hit better in those areas of the line up.

Evan Gattis needs a job: If you have been a fan of what Evan Gattis has been bringing to the table for the Braves then you may want to listen to this alternative solution. With Freddie Freeman due back on Monday the whole at 1st base will now be plugged on a nightly basis. So if Gattis wants to get regular at bats then he will have to catch. However Laird catches at least 1 day a week with Teheran and in a few weeks McCann will hopefully be ready to come back. This creates a possible situation of moving Justin Upton to Right Field and having Gattis play LF, leaving the struggling Heyward on the bench. The line up would include all the major bats of Freeman, McCann, Gattis and the Uptons.

A Solution to our Lead Off Needs: The idea of possibly sitting Heyward also opens up the opportunity to get Jordan Schafer into the lineup. In a very small sample size Schafer has looked impressive this year and seems eager to get some playing time. The key here is that Schafer is a “true” lead off man, something that the Braves have been lacking all year. Schafer can also defend the outfield with his solid glove work and could take over for BJ in Center while moving him to right field.

These are all just possible solutions and I’m not saying that any of them should be 100% pursued at this point in the season but it’s imperative that Fredi keeps his options open and explores any and every alternative that would help the Braves win ball games.

By: Bob McVinua

 

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A Dark Horse Is Emerging To Possibly Make The Braves Rotation

Anyone who is even somewhat familiar with the Atlanta Braves farm system has heard the name Julio Teheran. He is one of baseballs top prospects and has been the pride of the Braves farm system for the last couple of season. And while I believe Teheran is a very talented kid with a lot of up side, there has also been another name emerging in Braves camp this spring that could make for an interesting potential battle for the 5th spot in their rotation.

That young pitcher would be a guy by the name of J.R Graham. A 6’0 tall, 185lb hard throwing right handed pitcher. Graham may be a little less recognizable then Teheran but he has the ability to light up the radar gun and has been clocked at over 100mph on several occasions.

Although hype and name recognition often rule the roost in sports these days, I still believe that statistics over rule “potential”. I want a guy who can produce on the field and who has proven he can do so. Now I’m not going to make the case that J.R Graham is a far and away better starter then Julio Teheran but what I want to lay out is a few facts that show we could have a closer race for that 5th spot in the Atlanta rotation then many would assume.

When you look at both players 2012 stats you will see that Graham has the edge in several important categories. Now before I even start I know a lot of people will say that Teheran was in AAA for 2012 and Graham was still only in AA. Now the competition is surely different between AAA and AA but I don’t believe it is so different that we can’t draw comparisons from it.

JR Graham: 12-2 record with a 2.80 era in 26 starts

Julio Teheran: 7-9 record with a 5.08era in 26 starts

So the first thing I took notice of is the record. A far better winning % from Graham in comparison to Teheran. The ERA is also more then 2 runs per 9 innings better. Both pitchers made 26 starts so the data sample is pretty much the same.

JR Graham: 148 innings pitched with 7.5 hits/9 innings and 0.5 HRs / 9 innings.

Julio Teheran: 131 innings pitched with 10.0 hits/9innings and 1.2HRs/9 innings.

So it appears that in equal starts we are getting more bang for our buck with JR Graham. 17 more innings over 26 starts doesn’t seem like a lot but that could be 17 less innings your bullpen needs to eat up and that 17 innings is easily converted over to the amount of 2 starts of 8.5 innings a piece. As you can also see Graham allows 2.5 hits less per nine innings and also allows less then half the home runs. Again these numbers seem pretty insignificant but when you stretch them over the course of the entire season you could see some considerable differences.

JR Graham: 2.1 walks/9innings with 6.7 strikeouts/9innings

Julio Teheran: 3.0 walks/9innings with 6.7 strikeouts/ 9innings

Nothing overly alarming here but we can see that Graham averages almost a full walk less per nine innings and has identical strikeout numbers to Teheran which has always been Julio’s strong suit.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story here, nor will they ever with any sports situation but as I mentioned before I will always favor the numbers in a toss up situation. Both of these pitchers have electric fastballs which can hit into the high 90’s on the radar gun with Graham actually being clocked at 102mph during this spring. Now whether that radar gun was entirely accurate is up to you to believe or not believe but regardless he’s pushing triple digits with the heater.

Both of these guys have a lot to prove this spring training and my hope is that the Braves won’t unfairly gives this job to Teheran just because of hype or his ranking as their top prospect. I think JR Graham could really help this team at the back end of the rotation and if not there as a possible arm in the bullpen later on in the year.

Don’t sleep on JR Graham, we could be seeing him a lot in 2013

By: Bob McVinua

The Beasts Of The East

The Atlanta Braves aren’t a good team anymore. That label went out the window when Justin Upton came to town this past week. The Atlanta Braves my friends are a GREAT BASEBALL TEAM that is not only capable of doing great things, they will succeed in doing so.

Fist off we can’t forget that the Braves won a very respectable 94 games in 2012. And also mind you this includes the sluggish 0-4 start and playing 3 meaningless games with the struggling Pirates at the very end of the season. My point being this could have easily been a 96 or 97 win team had circumstances been slightly different. So we are already starting with a very good product and here’s why I think this years Braves team will take home the N.L East crown.

“UpUpHey”: The new look Braves outfield already has a catchy nick name and believe me they also have some SERIOUS talent. When I start breaking down this team suddenly our outfield becomes a clear focal point in terms of strength and value to the club. The Braves outfield is very special for a few reasons. We are talking about 3 guys; Justin Upton, BJ Upton and Jason Heyward who are all capable of hitting over 20 home runs, stealing over 20 bases and they can all field their position at a high level. Speed, power and golden gloves will grace the Braves outfield in 2013 which will be an enormous boost of confidence for our pitching staff in terms of defense as well as run production.

Lights Out Bullpen: The Atlanta bullpen has been a great strength of this team for a couple of years and Fredi seems to have found some very solid combinations for the late innings which allows us to get the ball to our All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel who had a record breaking season last year. As if the Braves bullpen wasn’t dominate enough, Frank Wren goes out and adds yet ANOTHER power arm in right handed thrower Jordan Walden. Walden possesses a mid to high 90’s fast ball and an impressive 11.1/9inning strikeout ratio. Combine that with a career era of just 3.06 you get one of the best “4th men out of the pen” in all of baseball. When you have arms like Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty, Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel you can basically play 6 inning ball games all year long. Talk about putting pressure on opposing teams. Would you want to trail Atlanta 4-2 going into the 7th inning? No, I wouldn’t either.

Starting Rotation: People can attempt to poke holes in our rotation all they want and believe me they’re trying. They can claim that some guys played to a higher level then normal last year and that we still lack experience at the back end. Let me tell you, this Braves rotation is not the same as the Greg Maddux / Tom Glavine era. But it’s still pretty darn good. We have the crafty veteran Tim Hudson leading the way, Kris Medlen who was completely dominate the last 2 months of the regular season last year, a great young arm in Minor who is poised to have a break out year and a very solid and dependable guy in Paul Maholm. The final spot is likely to be filled with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran who has been waiting in the wings for a while now. I’m very excited to see Teheran is capable of doing in a full time role with the Braves. He’s been up to the big leagues a few times in his career but never with any true consistency. Making a few spot starts here in there is never a true gauge of a pitcher’s ability and considering the offense Atlanta is going to put up this year I can’t think of a better situation  for a young starter to emerge into.

A Healthy McCann: Brian took a lot of heat last year for his sub-par performance especially late in the year when he elected to play with his sore shoulder. His late season struggles actually amounted to him eventually being benched for the Braves critical do or die 1 game play off which just goes to show that Fredi Gonzalez lacked confidence in his veteran back stop. Despite the time he was playing hurt and the time he actually missed due to injuries McCann still managed to put up respectable numbers for a National League catcher. McCann hit 20 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Braves, which isn’t his full potential by any means but in comparison to the average catcher those numbers aren’t bad. However in 2013 we aren’t looking for “average” from Brian McCann, Braves fans can expect an increase in production after he had surgery on his injured shoulder in the off season. McCann is ahead of schedule and is targeting Opening Day as his return.

Michael Bourn Misconception: “The Braves don’t have a true lead off hitter”. This statement is technically correct and can’t really be argued. It’s likely that Simmons will be asked to hit in the lead off spot as insinuated by Fredi Gonzalez. As stated Simmons is not the prototypical lead off man that Bourn is however there are a couple of things I do like about Simmons in comparison to Bourn. The first one being that Bourn only hit .222 for the entire 2nd half of the season and I’m almost certain Simmons can at bare minimum match that but I’m projecting something in the .270’s which would be in reality a great improvement. The other issue with Bourn last year was the excessive number of strikeouts, not only for a lead off man but Bourn struck out 155 times which is a lot for ANY player. Now Simmons doesn’t necessarily have the comparable at bats to Bourn but last year Michael Bourn struck out in 20% of his at bats compared to 12% for Simmons. With the added speed to the overall line up ( The Upton Brothers) the Braves may miss Bourn less then people had originally thought.

American League Power: The Braves are looking at a line up that has 6 players that are almost certain to hit 20 homers or more. This group includes BJ Upton, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla. I don’t think there’s any player in that group that anyone can argue won’t hit the 20 home run mark this year and we can possibly add in someone like Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson depending upon how much playing time they receive. This will be a very deep and difficult line up to navigate through and despite the strikeouts the Braves are going to score a LOT of runs this year.

Replacing Chipper: In reality no one can just “replace” a living legend and future hall of fame player. No one can ever wear number 10 or take Chipper’s place in terms of his legacy as an Atlanta Brave we can replace him in the simplest aspect of all, his 2012 production. This past season Chipper hit 14 home runs and drove in 62 runs. Chris Johnson who came over in the trade with Justin Upton, hit 15 home runs and drove in 76 runs. If you look at those numbers and compare them we would actually get 14 more runs batted in and one additional home run with starting Johnson at 3B over Chipper. Now of course we need to be practical here and not say Chris Johnson is a better player then Chipper Jones because he’s certainly not but in the here and now he’s more productive at 28 then Chipper was at 40.

Now it’s still early and we haven’t gotten a chance to see the team in action but for all the reasons mentioned above I have reason to believe this team is going to be a real force in the National League this year and a team that other organizations are going to fear. Having won 94 games last year

So with all of that said here are my predictions for the 2013 Atlanta Braves

Final Record: 100 wins / 62 loses

National League East Champions

Best Record in the National League

 

By: Bob McVinua

With No Margin For Error The Braves Made Many

End of the season articles are always the toughest for me to write. I am an avid sports fan and enjoy watching all of my favorite teams play. However there is something special about the Braves that separate them from the rest, something that makes them special. Perhaps that’s because baseball is special.

Baseball represents so many of things that make life great. Baseball is the change of seasons and the welcoming of spring. Putting away your coats and shovels and getting out your baseball gloves. No more hiding in doors and watching TV, it’s time to get outside and play with your kids or even have some fun for yourself. Feel the sun beating on your skin and the warm air all around you. Get yourself ready for those long summer nights and put behind you those long cold winter months. Everything comes a live in the spring. The days start to get longer and your spirits start to lift a bit.

Then it’s time for baseball. It’s time for your favorite team to take the field again with the hopes that ANYTHING can happen. It gives you a chance to believe that miracles can happen and that underdogs can rise above adversity and any disadvantages that they may be up against.

Baseball like life is all about development. Baseball players aren’t created in a day a month or even a year. They are created over a life time of hard work and dedication. Perhaps trips to the minor leagues and riding buses around small towns just keeping the dream alive. Isn’t that what life is about? Working hard today for a better tomorrow? Starting out small and rising through the ranks of your company and proving yourself worthy. A lot can be taken from the baseball diamond and can be translated into real life situations. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce our way. Sometimes people make bad decisions and errors, some more costly then others. But all of us are working towards some ultimate goal in our lives, just as the Braves players and any players for that matter are working hard to obtain their team and individual goals.

The one game playoff is no different. The Braves were sadly given one chance after a full years worth of hard work to prove that they were worthy of a spot in the next round. But how many people out there have worked hard for a year or many years to get ONE SHOT at a job interview. Whether you get this particular job could come down to just one interview. And in that interview you know that they can’t get to know the real you in just 30 or 60 minutes. They can’t possibly understand all you’ve been through or the years of hard work that have gotten you this far. And just like the Braves who played 162 games to get to where they were, people don’t realize how good of a team they really were. We won 94 games this year just 5 more wins ALL SEASON and we could have won the division. They can’t judge us as a failed team because of one bad game but some will try. The format isn’t fair but sadly that’s the way that it is for right now at least.

In terms of the one game playoff recap or highlights I’m sure all of you have seen it a million times as have I. So there won’t be any point in me beating a dead horse here but I will point out a few things that I felt were game changers.

 

David Ross Home Run: This is exactly what the Braves needed. They needed to strike first and strike early. With Kris Medlen on the mound I thought that it would only take 3-4 runs to win this game and that was with a little margin for error. Medlen has been lights out all year so I felt very good about things. The Braves record is much stronger when they score first vs when their opponent scores first. The only issue with this was that I felt as if the team as they have done all season, will sit on a lead thinking it can last the entire game. I thought their could have been more urgency to score runs in the following innings.

Play Small Ball: In the bottom of the 3rd the Braves just received a shut down inning from Medlen after giving him the lead. Now at this point the emphasis needs to be on taking on more runs one at a time. Michael Bourn leads off the inning with a single which was a fantastic start. Now with Molina behind the plate and Loshe very strong at holding runners close to the bag it was nearly impossible for Fredi to send Bourn in that situation. I wouldn’t have either. What I would have done is had Prado lay down a bunt. He handles the bat extremely well and could have gotten Bourn to 2nd base with only 1 out and the middle of the order coming up. Bourn scores easily on any single and with Heyward and Chipper due up I’ll take my chances. Not to mention it would have caused Loshe to throw more “stress” pitches that inning. Fredi showed signs of bunting as he gave Prado the signal once to lay one down but took it off after the ball was fouled off. However with 1 strike I would have left it on. Then we’re a single away from making it 3-0. Build the lead slow and steady but take advantage of your opportunities. This was almost guaranteed to be a low scoring game of under 5 runs for both clubs if there hadn’t been mental mistakes.

Double Play Ball: This is the one that hurt the most. Beltran leads off the 4th inning with a single which is the Cardinals first hit of the ball game. Now here comes the middle of their order so Medlen must be in trouble right? Well not exactly. He gets a tailor made double play ball hit right at Chipper. Beltran still has some speed but he’s no where near the runner he once was and Holliday is an extremely slow runner coming out of the box and on top of that he is battling hip and back issues. Chipper just need to get the ball to second in a timely manner and Uggla would have had plenty of time to get Holliday at first. But instead Chipper throws the ball into right field allowing Beltran to go to 3rd. Now this play changes the entire dynamic of the inning. Medlen could take the mound with 2 outs and no one on if that double play is turned correctly. However now it’s 1st and 3rd with 0 outs. And with the way Medlen was pitching prior to and after that 4th inning you could clearly tell it was the error that shook him up. He wasn’t the same that inning because in his mind he should have been out of trouble. Yes as a pitcher you need to bear down but at the same time you expect your top ranked defense to make those kinds of plays behind you.

Why Are You Bunting: This was perhaps the biggest shocker to me.  In the bottom of the 4th inning the Braves had a chance to respond to the Cardinals and tie up this ball game. Simmons comes up with 1st and 3rd with 1 out. Now Simmons is a pretty good hitter in his own right so I wouldn’t have been shocked to see him lace a ball up the middle and keep the train moving. Or at least he could have hit a Sac Fly to tie up the game. But instead he lays down a safety squeeze per Fredi’s request and ends up being out at 1st base on an interference call. So now Medlen has to come up and try to drive in the run from 3rd with 2 outs. Not a good situation. The dynamic of the game would have changed again if the Braves had tied it up. The Cardinals took the lead but would have surrendered it right back the very next half inning. Mentally that makes a huge difference. Playing a tied game where you know one run could give you the lead vs needing one to tie. Now if Fredi was worried about Freeman’s ability to score on a fly ball then would a safety squeeze be any better? Probably not considering Simmons would have to push that ball in the perfect spot to allow Freeman to get home from 3rd. If Loshe fields that ball cleanly there’s no way that Freeman makes it home safely.

More Sloppy Play: You’ll notice how I skipped right over the Holliday home run. That was one run on one mistake from Medlen. That home run was not one of the bigger game changers for me although it did extend the Cardinals lead to 2. What bothered me far more then that home run was the sloppy play in the top of the 7th. Uggla makes a critical error to allow Freese to reach 1st safely and then advance on the poor throw. Now this was bad by Uggla on two accounts. First off he booted a pretty routine ground ball that allowed the lead off man to reach in the first place which never should have happened but then on top of making the initial error he threw the ball away. I mean that throw wasn’t even close. He should have just stuck that ball in his back pocket. Then the Cardinals would have had to decide if they wanted to bunt the runner over to 2nd or not which is slightly different then bunting him to 3rd as it would still take a base hit to score him. Once Freese was bunted over to 3rd base Fredi brought in Chad Durbin which proved to be the right call as Kozma hit the ball hard and right at Simmons who was playing in. Another chance for the Braves to cut off that run and Simmons like Uggla threw the ball away.

In Field Fly Rule: Perhaps they should call it the outfield fly rule in this case. This play was extremely aggravating to me and I can’t lay it to rest until I vent my feelings on here. I won’t go on a long rant but I think this call was horrible. I don’t care what the rule book says the point of the infield fly rule is to protect the base runners. In this case the base runners did not need protection as there was NO WAY Kozma was going to intentionally drop that ball to try and gun down the lead runner. Even if he threw out Uggla at 3rd which is very doubtful the Braves would have had 1st and 2nd with 2 outs, the same as if he had caught the ball. So there was NO NEED to call an in field fly there as it only hurt the base runners rather then protecting them. Did this call lose us the game? My answer is I don’t know. The bases would have been loaded with McCann coming to bat and only one out. Everything plays differently with the bases loaded. McCann would not have walked like he did. Motte knew he could pitch around McCann with a 3 run lead and he had a base open to do so. McCann would have gotten at least 1 or 2 good pitches to hit and he could have hit a home run or he could have grounded into a double play. Either way we’ll never know and I think that’s what is bothering most Braves fans. Personally I would have rather had Zozma just catch the ball, end of story.

2013: As you guys know the blog doesn’t stop just because it’s the end of the season. I’ll cover the winter meetings, trades and free agent signings as well. If you guys have any other ideas of topics you’d like to see covered please let me know and I’d be happy to accommodate as many of you as possible.

My next post will be done soon and it will cover some ideas that I have on how we can improve next years Braves team and some of the moves that I feel will and should be made.

Thanks to everyone who has read my blog over the course of the season. And lets not forget, Baseball is like a good friend that moves away each winter but is guaranteed to return at the first sight of spring.

By: Bob McVinua

” A man has to have goals- for a day, for a life time- and that was mine, to have people say there goes Ted Williams the greatest hitter who ever lived” – Ted Williams

 

A One Game Playoff Comes Down To One Critical Decision

Happy September Braves fans! I know I haven’t posted as much as of late but I wanted to touch on some things as we approach the post season. Yes it’s September and as a Braves fan I’m talking about the postseason… Sorry that was the pause while I’m sure someone out there was yelling at me for being a jinx or talking too soon.

Our Braves have quietly put together a very good season. As we sit we’re 86-64 a very impressive 22 games over .500. We’re 5.0 games out in the division and 6.5 games up for that coveted Wild Card spot. Although the Cardinals appear to be on their way to a win at the moment so that lead could sit at 6.0 pending today’s action.
Now while we still have a long shot at the division ( don’t laugh) I think it would be wise for Fredi and the coaching staff to prepare for the one game playoff. Now how do you prepare for a 1 game playoff? OK before I get into the specifics of this article I just want to say that a one game playoff goes against EVERYTHING that baseball stands for. Which is longevity. It’s not a sprint it’s a marathon. It’s not about winning 10 games and getting into the post season like the NFL and that’s exactly what Bud Selig has done here. He’s sprinkled a little bit of the NFL onto Major League baseball. Which as I stated before the season even started that I didn’t agree with, I’m not just complaining because my team has the 1st wild card in a strangle hold and I suddenly am afraid of the 1 game playoff. You don’t play 162 games to have a “play in” game essentially unless by some miracle both teams have identical records. Then FINE, I can live with that but as that doesn’t happen very often it’s rarely an issue.

And while I’m not really for the one game playoff the Braves are still likely to be involved. Now I had mentioned earlier on about preparing for a 1 game playoff. Now most would ask “well how would you go about doing that?”. And it starts with making sure you have the RIGHT starting pitcher on the mound. Your starter will set the tone and determine how much pressure there will be on the offense on that given night. This game would play right into Atlanta’s hands if it was a low scoring affair since their offense can be so streaky from one night to another no one wants to see them get behind 4-0 in the 1st inning.

So Fredi Gonzalez is sitting in his office with his feet up on his desk trying to decide who’s going to pitch this crucial game. Because I believe that if  we can get past this game then we are capable of making some serious noise the rest of the way but it’s all about getting there now that this new system is in place. So Fredi has to have 2 guys in mind. Either Tim Hudson who is has been the veteran leader for this staff all year long or the younger but more consistent Kris Medlen. So let’s take a look and as fans try to decide who the best option is.
Tim Hudson:

The playoffs are generally about momentum and what have you done for me lately so let’s see what Tim Hudson has done for the Braves lately.

In his last 10 starts he’s 6-2 with a 3.88 era. So not exactly lights out numbers but decent enough. Only losing 2 of the past 10 decisions gives us a little confidence and the 6 wins is also comforting to a certain degree.

Match ups. The next thing a manger should be looking for is how this pitcher has matched against other teams that are in the playoff race. Looking at stat lines against the Padres or Marlins is fine in terms of momentum but this is a completely different barometer in terms of gauging your starter.

St Louis Cardinals: Tim Hudson has faced the Cardinals ( a likely playoff match up) just once this season. Where he compiled the not so impressive stat line of 5.2 inning, 6 hits and 5 runs. This game was also played at Turner Field the same site as the Wild Card game will be played assuming the Braves hang on.

Philadelphia Phillies: Suddenly the Phillies are right back in this playoff picture and while they would have to leap frog several teams to get that 2nd Wild Card they are still heavily in contention and a team that Hudson has matched up with this year. In 2 starts against the Phillies one at home and one on the road Hudson has another not so impressive stat line. 9.1 innings 15 hits and 11 runs in both starts combined.

Experience: The last thing a manager needs to be aware of before sending a guy to the mound is their experience factor. Some may say that experience is over rated and perhaps in some cases it is but to me the more you do something the less nervous you are about it and the more confidence you have in doing it. So there is always something to be said about experience.

Hudson over his career has gathered up 14 professional seasons and has made over 400 starts in that span.

Another thing to note is some players melt under the bright lights of October. The pressure is on and the atmosphere is much different then the regular season. Hudson has made 9 career post season starts. Posting a 1-3 record with a 3.56era. Not stellar numbers but he has been there before both with the A’s and the Braves.

Kris Medlen:

Now my job is to sell the finer points of each candidate and their possible pitfalls. With the information I give you hopefully you can form your own opinion on who you would like to see start that game and perhaps you already had an opinion long before even reading this. Either way I’ll follow the same structure for Medlen as a I did with Hudson.

Last 10 starts: Mighty Medlen has posted an 8-0 mark with a 0.76era in his past 10 starts. If you’re looking to ride the hot hand and momentum into the post season then there isn’t a better guy to go with then Kris Medlen. If you’re a what have you done for me lately type manager then Medlen will get a good hard look in this spot.

Match ups: I was hoping to touch on some key match ups here in terms of Medlen facing the Wild Card contenders but no such luck. Medlen has been able to avoid them this year and hasn’t made a start against the Dodgers, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates or Phillies this year. However he has made TWO very big starts against the Washington Nationals which will have to serve as our meter in terms of the playoff competition.

Medlen has thrown 14 brilliant innings against Washington this season, allowing 11 hits and only one earned run.

Experience: If you’re looking for a weak spot in Kris Medlen this is it. Medlen has never made a post season start so in terms of facing the pressure the results for Medlen are simply unknown. Now this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, everyone must start their post season career some where.
So there you have it. The 2 most likely candidates to pitch the one game playoff for the Braves. And while the presidential election of 2012 looms nearer the Braves may be having a small election of their own with Fredi getting soul possession of those electoral votes.

I’d love to hear what you guys have to say.

Medlen or Hudson?

Bob McVinua

 

 

 

Stress Turns To Comfort In Terms Of Schedule

If you’re a fan of the Atlanta Braves then the past few days I’m sure have been very stressful to say the least. And I’m sure as you start looking at the next match up you’re worried that this isn’t going to get any easier but luckily you’d be wrong if that’s your assumption. After a 3 game set with the Dodgers, 3 with the Nationals that we’re in the midst of right now and then a 4 game set against the Giants it seems as if this schedule is impossible to navigate.

Well here’s the good news. It gets MUCH easier from here. Once we conclude the series against the Giants in San Francisco we will see a drastic change in our schedule strength similar to a severe change in whether when it goes from being 95 degrees down to 70 in just a few days.

The Braves will have 34 remaining games after the Giants series. The final stretch of the season will begin on the road in San Diego on Monday. With the first pitch of that game comes relief. The Braves will play 28 of their final 34 games against below .500 ball clubs. And only 6 games against those with winning records. The schedule stacks up like this.

@ Padres (3 games) 54-70 record

@ Phillies (3 games) 57-65 record

vs Rockies (4 games) 47-73 record

@ Mets (3 games) 57-65 record

@ Brewers (3 games) 55-66 record

vs Nationals (3 games) 76-46 record

@ Marlins ( 3 games) 56-67 record

@ Phillies ( 3 games) 57-65 record

vs Marlins (3 games) 56-67 record

vs Mets ( 3 games) 57-65 record

@ Pirates ( 3 games) 67-55 record
So as you can see the schedule stacks up very much in our favor and you have to believe that if the Braves can just survive this week then they’ll be in good shape to make a play off run.

Another thing to note is that you can’t underestimate the importance of division games. The Nationals are 9-4 against the Braves this season thus putting them 5 games ahead of us based on those 13 games alone. The total lead in the division for Washington is 6 games right now.

So in 13 head to head games the Nationals have built a 5 game lead over the Braves.

In the other 109 regular season games the Nationals have build a 1 game lead over the Braves.

To me that is a staggering statistic. People will look at the standings and see that Washington has a comfortable 6 game lead. But little do they know if they just dig a little bit deeper they’d see that the Braves have played them almost to a deck lock for the other 109 games played this season.

Davey Johnson said in his post game interview last night something to the affect of every game has it’s own weight and that he didn’t like to give certain games more value then other ones.

Although I see his point, I can’t completely agree. Yes every game is worth 1/162 in the standings on paper. But the way you gain separation in a division is by beating those teams head to head. And to me the evidence is clearly there.

If Davey Johnson’s team only managed to build a 1 game lead over a 109 game span but was able to gain 5 games in the standings over the course of just 13 games, I find it hard pressed to see that all games hold exactly the same weight.

The N.L East will likely come down to one of these things:

1) A key injury or shut down of Strasburg

2) Head to head match ups (5 left)

3) A costly losing streak (4 games or more)

As bleak as the division looks now for the Braves after last nights loss it’s impossible for me to over look the lessons that we learned last year. No lead is safe. A lot of people like to talk about how the Braves blew a 10.5 game lead they held at the end of August. To me that wasn’t the memory that holds strongest in my mind.

To me it was being up 3 games with 5 to play and not making it into the post season. The Braves went 0-5 during that span and the Cardinals went 4-1. The Braves actually lost 4 games in the last 5 that were played and that’s how quickly things can turn. If we don’t learn from history we’re doomed to repeat it. So any team that feels they’re above a late season slump better think twice.

By: Bob McVinua

Meet The Braves Bench

Major League benches to me are similar to offensive line play in the NFL. This is where you win hard fought games in the trenches. Where a base hit off the bench in the bottom of the 9th can send you on ward in the playoffs or even clinch a division title late in the season. Some will argue that with a good starting cast you can win without a great bench, which is why a lot of teams over look their benches when finalizing their team in Spring Training.

The Braves bench production is amongst the worst in baseball and is without question holding the team back as they try and make a climb within the division standings. The bench unit ranks 27th in pinch hitting average with a .159 mark. Only 3 teams in baseball are worse; The Angels, White Sox and Rangers. Yes those 3 teams are highly competitive within their divisions and within the A.L Wild Card but that goes to show you the difference between the American League and the National League.

With managerial decisions being critical in the N.L a manager must lean on his bench a lot more. The pitchers spot is guaranteed to come up every 3 innings if not sooner and with each of those at bats you must make a decision. Do we let the pitcher hit? Or do we replace him? The bases are loaded with 2 outs do we replace the pitcher to try and take the lead in this critical spot? Or do we risk letting the pitcher hit because he’s retired the last 13 guys he’s faced? Nothing is more demoralizing then when you pinch hit for a pitcher who’s been brilliant all night in hopes of breaking the game open, only to have your pinch hitter strike out and not get the job done.

The Brave are dead last in the N.L in pinch hitting average. The Nationals on the other hand are the best in the league sporting a .290 team average in pinch hitting situations. That’s incredible. To have pinch hitters who are likely to come up in some pretty big spots late in games to be hitting close to .300 as a group that’s what could be making the difference in the National League East race right now.

The Braves bench player stats are so bad it’s almost unbelievable. I’ll lay them out for you so that you can see for yourself. Now this is the main crop of bench players we’ve had for the majority of the season. I understand that now Pastornicky and Constanza have been throw into the mix but they were not there for the majority of games played in the 2012 season.

Matt Diaz:  .222avg/2 home runs/ 13rbi’s The lefty killer. I actually don’t mind Diaz being on the bench and that’s the truth. He is outstanding against left handed pitching and could provide a late inning spark against a lefty reliever who’s just come into the game. The only issue is Diaz is a “specialist” so he’s kind of a one trick pony. This wouldn’t be bad if we had other reliable hitters on the bench but since we don’t he just gets lost in the shuffle.

Eric Hinske: .202avg/ 1 home run/ 12rbi’s Mr Clutch. Eric Hinske has had some really big hits for the Braves in the past and that’s exactly why Wren signed him to a 1 year deal. I was 100% in favor of this deal when it happened so I can’t go back on it now. However Hinkse really hasn’t been to clutch this year as he’s hitting only .202 for the season, just barely out of the dreaded .100’s. Hinske provides us with a liability in the field that can only be made up for by his offensive ability. When you can’t field your position or hit the ball effectively you really don’t provide much value at all. I know Hinske is a player favorite in the club house so the drop in morale could be the only concern about letting him go before the season’s end.

David Ross: .272avg/ 5 home runs/ 12rbi’s By far the best bench player Fredi Gonzalez has and possibly one of the best back up catchers in all of baseball. His .272avg is more then respectable for a guy who regularly comes off the bench and he’s a very solid back up to Brian McCann so giving him a day off each week isn’t a problem at all. I have no real complaints about David Ross what so ever and I think the Braves would have a very difficult time finding a better back up catcher.

Juan Francisco: .225/ 6 home runs/ 19rbi’s Juan is the team’s most productive bench player in terms of home runs and runs batted in. This is also because he probably gets the most at bats of any one. He plays regularly in replace of Chipper Jones and he’s often one of the first options off the bench in terms of pinch hitting. To me Juan Francisco is a “home run specialist” if there was such a thing he’d be it. This guy swings for the fences just in case he hits it. He’s great as a home run threat off the bench but again here’s another Braves bench player hitting well below .250. Yes the threat of a home run is nice but often you just need a base hit or a sac fly late in close games which is something Francisco struggles with because he fails to put the ball in play due to the large amount of strikeouts.

Jack Wilson: .109avg 0 home runs/ 4rbi’s This is Major League Baseball and I don’t believe anyone is a sure out but Jack Wilson comes the closest to changing my mind. Forget dipping below the .200’s in the average our buddy Jack is barely hanging onto the .100’s. Jack Wilson almost leaves us a man down in terms of hitting, I’d almost rather see Tim Hudson up there trying to hit then Jack Wilson. However Jack Wilson brings a great glove to the Braves that is valuable during the late innings of a close ball game. But when Simmons is healthy and playing he’s an outstanding fielder himself. We don’t need to replace him in the late innings and in terms of giving him a day off he’s so young he shouldn’t need many at all. Why not look for a better utility bat off the bench? Someone who can play SS/2B competitively but can also give us a big hit off the bench?

 

I think that finding a quality starter to bolster this rotation is Wren’s number 1 priority because our starters are posting an era of over 4.00 which is in the seller of the National League. However this bench needs to be his second priority. Bench players of decent quality won’t requite a ton of return in exchange for timely late inning hits that could easily take this Braves club to the next level. I think that Hinske and Jack Wilson could be guys that are up for replacement. A utility infielder who can play 2nd and Shortstop and maybe someone who can replace Hinkse, a player who can cover 1st base and both corner out field positions.

By: Bob McVinua