Saturday, March 13, 2010

Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Billy Wagner

Who else remembers Billy Wagner's first appearance back from the disabled list last season?

Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blaring over the Citi Field speakers before the 5'11" (generously) lefty dismantled the Braves' eighth inning threesome of Reid Gorecki, Chipper Jones, and Brian McCann (striking out the first and last dudes mentioned).

About an appearance later, Wagner was placed on waivers and traded to the Boston Red Sox.

All told, Wagner appeared to be "back," as he managed 26 Ks to eight walks in 15.2 innings while posting a sparkling 1.72 ERA.

With those stats as their sample, the Atlanta Braves jumped on Wagner as soon as he started fielding offers and inked the 38-year-old Virginia-native to a one-year deal that is set to pay him $7 million in 2010 (with an option for 2011 that kicks in if and when he finishes 50 games).

But, were those numbers flukes?

Did the Braves just throw away close to ten million dollars that could have been put to the, at least right now, questionable offense?

Will Billy Wagner come close to the pre-Tommy John surgery years?

To answer those questions, I'll say: "probably not," "no," and "sure, why not."

Wagner, upon his return, was throwing in the mid- to upper-90s as he had in his glory days (although, 100 was more the norm back in the day) with the same cutting slider and loopy curve that made him one of the greatest door-closers of all time.

Why would you expect Cowboy Billy to be anything less than what he was in '05, '06, '07 after that kind of showing?

Keep in mind that Tommy John Surgery has about a 93 percent success rate and we, as Braves fans, have seen the likes of Mike Gonzalez and Peter Moylan have a ton of success in the past two years following the ligament replacement procedure.

I look for Wagner to have a strong campaign with the Braves in 2010...and I have little doubt in my mind that he won't at least approach 40 saves for the club.

A 2.75-3.00 ERA with something like 95 Ks in 70 or so appearances seems like a fair bet for Wagner.

But, his potential for on-the-field success isn't the only reason for his appearance on my list of Braves X-Factors.

Not even close.

I'm looking at the impact he could have as a leader in the Braves' clubhouse.

Even though he has made some, let's say, obscure comments over the years, he seems to respect people who are accountable for their actions (not always prevalent in the Mets' clubhouse) and, by all accounts, carries out his business the "right way" (hustling out all of the spring drills et all).

In an environment where he'll be around up-and-coming relievers like Eric O'Flaherty, Jesse Chavez, Kris Medlen, and closer-in-waiting (and fellow short dude) Craig Kimbrel, you have to figure that his simple presence and apparent work ethic will leak into these guys and help out their performance in the majors.

If he can couple that sort of "mentorship" with his potential on the field this season, then I think we're talking about the steal of the offseason.

An anchor at the end of the 'pen and an exceptional teacher and influence?

For $7 million?

Eat your heart out (insert name of a GM/owner overpaying for any closer).

Now, to couple one of the most dramatic 9th inning presences of all time, I present one of the most dramatic songs of all time (and my personal favorite)...

Up next in this series, the man, the myth, the Hey...a top-to-bottom look at what Jason Heyward brings to the Braves in 2010.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Jason Heyward Situation: My Take

It's becoming more and more obvious with each passing batting practice 450 foot, car-demolishing blast and Spring Training walk and slash, that Jason Heyward is becoming, and will likely remain such for the next decade or two, the apple of Braves Nations' eye.

The big-boned Atlanta prospect looks to be, even at a mere 20 years of age, the real deal.

And, with that, is looking more and more like one of the, as Braves officials have, in a somewhat round-about way, coined it "best 25 men in camp."

So, it's a no-brainer that he starts the season at the Ted against the Chicago Cubs, right?

Not so fast...

In his most recent downer-blog, venerable Atlanta-Journal Constitution writer Mark Bradley profiled the dilemma that henceforth shall be referred to the J-Hey Conundrum.

I encourage you, provided your view on the world is of a cynical nature, to read it and the caption from ESPN's Rob Neyer.

(For the record, Bradley does present his facts in a straight-forward manner, very professional...but it's so depressing to read one of his columns. Give him and David O'Brien the same stats and information, and you'll walk away from DOB's piece thinking opposed to the sluggish sensation you get as you navigate away from Bradley's publications.)

Anyway (I wrote a blog a couple of weeks back that I was too embarrassed to let tough B/R because of the utter disgust I heard when I read it back...I don't want to let this one get to that point), back to the downer-blog...

In it, Bradley (through Neyer, who wrote his lecture through Bryan Smith) likens the Heyward situation to that of both Tommy Hanson last season and Evan Longoria in 2008.

Which I get.

In both of those cases, the teams (the Braves and Rays, respectively) were looking to sacrifice a little bit of production in the beginning of their 162-game campaigns to save a little money down the line.

But consider the cost, beyond just dollars, in both cases.

The Rays, as we all know, inked Longo to a nine-year, $44 million-plus contract days after calling him up to make the entire "service time" situation moot (172 days is a full year...Longo would have had 170 if anyone had been counting upon a contract falling trough back in '08 or whatnot)--and I know that's what everyone in Atlanta and the entire southeast (and pretty much everyone who brandishes a cap with a fancy "A" nationwide) would like to see.

And in the end, not calling him up didn't hurt the eventual '08 AL Champs at all.

They got their affordable deal for an up-and-coming MVP and a berth in the World Series.

Then look at Tommy Hanson who has yet to make any sort of long-term (as in, beyond his arbitration years) commitment with the Bravos.

Sure, the team keeps nasty arbitration hearings out of the picture for another season, but the Braves were also, for my money, kept out of the 2009 playoffs because of this decision.

Think about it...give Hanson 10 more starts last season to build on his stellar 2.89 ERA and 8.2 K/9 rate and we could've been talking about a deep run for the Braves and that staff that so elegantly graced the field last season.

That's not to say that he definitely would have propelled the Braves to the few additional games they needed to clinch a spot; I'm just saying that the spark Hanson provided was something to behold and would have brought about more positive ramifications than any uninspired Jo-Jo Reyes start.

And that brings us back to the J-Hey Conundrum.

Should the Braves be sweetening the Kool-Aid all of the residences of Braves Nation have been drinking...even though it is somewhat of a risky (no guarantees Heyward is as accommodating as Longoria) route, and call the J-Hey Kid up while Super-Two and "early-arbitration/free agency" loom heavy?

Or should they pour all of the hype and anticipation down the sink in an effort to delay big-time, high-pressure contract negotiations?

For me, the answer is simple--bring out the Domino!

I can admit that I come within an inch of peeing myself every time Heyward comes to bat and does something (be it a single, double, stolen base, walk, or pop out) because of my school girl-like giddiness over the McDonough Man-Child (there's a nickname for ya).

And I'm sure I'm not alone in that sensation (though most dudes probably would not liken themselves to a school girl publicly).

But, the reasoning (though paralleling that in a way) goes much deeper than just my own personal man-crush on J-Word.

It goes beyond, as one commenter on Bradley's blog put it (this dude was anti-Heyward in the majors, for the record) "[Giving] 14 days and getting 365."

It goes to the state of the pissed off, foaming-at-the-mouth, hungry Braves' fan-base that lets its "trollish" wrath be heard daily around the interweb, and the atmosphere down at Disney that you feel radiating out of any of the veteran Braves' comments.

Since 2005, when can you remember THIS sort of utter joy and giddiness radiating from the depths of Braves forums?

When is the last time that you've heard so much national interest in the franchise?

When is the last time you've seen such an immaculate talent rise through the Braves' farm system?


It's been a while.

At some point, you have to reach out to the fan base and say "we're really trying" (not that I doubt that).

Say that "you know what, we are a better team with this guy than without...even if we lose out a little on the back end."

Even without the emotional ties, the dude, with his .352/.446/.611 line at AA last year and incredible maturity (both on- and off the field, by all reports), has proved that he, at the very least, deserves an unbiased (from a cash perspective) look.

He's proven that age is just a number with his "30 ought six" shots to the outfield and high praise (I think they're too much of s stretch, so I'm not going to specifically mention them) from the man that should be his manager on April 5, Bobby Cox.

Even more than all of that, he brings a quiet confidence and a "Francoeur-like" energy that doesn't always seem to be readily available when you look at any of the Braves' starters

As Heyward says on his Twitter account, "it all feels the same, enjoyin the game i love."

And looking at all of the smiles in every BP photo and autograph signing you see of him, you believe that.

As long as he doesn't go 0-for the rest of the spring (though one-for would probably not be acceptable, either), he is the best option available for the Braves in right field...regardless of any cash concerns...and should have a number "nine" penciled in next to his name come Opening Day as he runs onto the grass of Turner Field.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Chipper Jones

This past season was rough, to say the least, for Chipper Jones.

The venerable Braves third baseman posted the lowest batting average (.264) and slugging percentage (.430) that his 16-year (including the eight games in '93) has ever seen.

The now-37-year-old Jones also saw his first sub-20 homer season as a full-time player.

In fact, '09 was so bad for the face (at least until J-Word starts tearing it up) of the franchise, that retirement talks were being floated by Hoss himself this offseason as he enters the first year of a three-year extension.

Even with these pint-sized numbers, the Braves as a whole really did not suffer the fate many would have expected with those abysmal numbers from No. 10.

They still won 86 games and were well within striking distance during the season's final weeks.

But, imagine what this past season could have been with the Chipper we've come to know and love over the past few years in Atlanta's three hole.

You know, that .320, 20 homer guy that slices up defenses with teardrop bloopers, screaming gappers, and the occasional 400-foot blast.

The guy that can carry the team when it occasionally finds itself sans-B-Mac, -Escobar, or -clean-up hitter.

Had you plugged that into the line-up the Braves featured in the second half of 2009, and we may be talking about the deep playoff run the Braves and their exceptional pitching staff had in the 2009 postseason...but I digress.

We all know what C. Jones means to the Braves.

He's the guy that leads all of the young guys with his actions and is always accountable for his actions...a true professional.

But, he is getting up there in age and is now looking down the barrel of Bobby Cox's final know, his second father who has served as his only MLB manager.

You have to wonder if he can handle the pressure that's going to stem from 2009, Cox, and his birth certificate.

Because, if he can't, you're likely looking at another postseasonless season in Hotlanta.

This really is the dude that can push the Braves over the line of mediocrity if he can come in and post something close to the afore mentioned "norm" that Braves fans have come to expect from their aging star.

Personally, I think he's got enough in the tank to do something this season.

We certainly can't expect anything close to his '99 MVP season as a 27-year-old, and I don't think any of us really are.

But, when you consider the pressure a legitimate bat like Troy Glaus take off of Jones' shoulders (who has admitted to attempting to boost his power numbers with a "bigger," if you will, swing) and the work he put in this offseason to fix some flaws in his swing, you have to think that .290-.310 and 20-25 homers is well within the realm of possibilities.

If I had to put money down on it, I think .307 (that is his career BA) with 21 homers and an OBP in the neighborhood of .420 would be completely reasonable.

That average falls short of his '06-'08 and those homers would match his 2005 (when he batted .296).

He won't (and I think you can mark that down) set the world on fire...but he also shouldn't be the, let's say, anti-Chipper that we saw in least I hope.

And...well...I can't think of any good way to slip this video in here other than to say that I really like the song...

Anyway, I think we'll be looking at Billy Wagner in our next edition of Atlanta Braves sure to check back.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Musings on the Atlanta Braves as Players Report

This is my favorite time of year.

Pitchers are throwing to real catchers for the first time in months.

Rookies are gearing up for their first shots.

Aging vets are getting ready to fight to prove that they can still do what they've been doing since they were five-years-old.

And news is actually readily available without having to BS a ton.

This is the first musing that I've put out in some time, so I actually have some real topics to discuss (exciting, right?) without the previously mentioned BS (though I did throw some of that in here).

First thing, Johnny Damon.

The saga that most Braves fans have been emerging ourselves in has been that of the newly-christened Detroit Tiger, Johnny Damon.

I said before it started that the whole story seemed like a good setup to get my hopes up before throwing them to the floor in a fiery menagerie of frustration and disappointment.

And guess what?

That's not exactly what happened...which is a good thing.

After all, I had figured that (even though I really wanted him at the top of the Braves' order) the formerly-bearded one would spurn the Atlanta ballclub for greener outfields in the American League.

And, when Damon signed a one year, $8 MM deal with the Tigers this past week, I just sort of shrugged and just reminded myself that I would probably take four times (depending on the report you read) the guaranteed that the Braves were offering to play for Jim Leyland and his crew as well.

I was disappointed, don't get me wrong on that front, because I saw Damon as a legitimate option to improve the club...but I didn't get too worked up.

I still think this club is well-constructed enough to contend...just glad that ordeal's over.

And that brings me to my second support.

I'm going to ask that you scroll through a few Braves blogs (Mark Bradley, David O'Brien, and Mark Bowman would be the "beat guys" I would suggest with any Braves-related threads on MLB Trade Rumors being the other source I would recommend) and tell me if you don't get disgusted with some of the pessimistic and "woe is us" comments from the fans on there.

Frank "Do Nothing" Wren.

Third Place.

Terrible pitching staff.

Fourth Place.

Atrocious line-up.

Even a few folks calling fifth place for the Braves.

In the words of Keyshawn Johnson, COME ON MAN!

The months leading up to the season (unless Dayton Moore is your GM) are cause for optimism.

This is the time when you start to think about how awesome a little October glory would be.

Not when you're calling for the cellar for your "team" (because I don't think some of the people really like the Braves)...especially for a team that's as talented as the 2010 Atlanta Braves.

I mean, seriously.

Look at the corps going into battle this year.

You're going to have one of the top-five rotations in baseball backed by Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Peter Moylan, and Eric O'Flaherty in the 'pen and Yunel Escobar, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and Troy Glaus, to name a few, in the line-up.

You're telling me that's back-end-of-the-division quality?

It's not...have a little faith (and no, I'm not bringing George Michael back again).

Next thing, Edward Salcedo.

If this kid's half of what he's being billed as, then the Braves may have found their long-term solution for third base...or at least part of it (more on that in just a second).

He projects to have solid power and is said to handle short-stop exceptionally well even at 18 (which is his controversy now).

His body size, though, has led many to call him a 3B down the line (that has yet to be seen, obviously).

Imagine if he pans out, though, and the talent an infield of Salcedo, Escobar (or those two could be switched since both are "big" dudes and Escobar has that epic arm), Prado, and Freeman would come up and slam on the table (since this would go beyond "bringing" something to the table).

And a potential OF of Johnson (I'm thinking without all of the Ks while retaining his mammoth power)-Schafer-Heyward with B-Mac behind the plate coupled with a rotation anchored by Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson?

Talk about talent...

That's all being eager (and, more than likely, overly-so), but it is nice to have an above-average infield prospect in the Braves' system now as opposed to hoping for some miracle pick in the draft.

Last thing, the first prediction on the record.

Okay (and this related to the second "point" I made), this is what I'm calling for the Braves in 2010...

Based on the incredibly strong staff and more-than-solid supporting cast, I'm marking the Braves down for 91 wins...good for second in the division and a berth in the playoffs via the wild card.

They came close last season, and I have a ton more confidence in this group than the one that hit the field to start the 2009 season in Philadelphia, so I'm expecting the Braves to do a little more this year than last.

Who knows, they may even run this league in the playoffs (sorry for the bad lead-up to this video)...

...with their mix of vigorous youth and proven veteran talent.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Eric Hinske

The Atlanta Braves, in what has proved to be their last notable signing of the 2009-10 offseason, signed a one-year, $1 million contract back in January.

And it really didn't send any sort of shockwaves through the Major League Baseball community.

A 32-year-old bench-rider signing a microscopic (relatively speaking, I'd love a million dollars) contract with Johnny Damon still on the market (remember, the rumors for him started churning about the time Hinske was signed before signing with Detroit earlier this month) isn't exactly going to make the pundits on MLB Tonight and Hot Stove rant and rave.

But, I don't think the lack of publicity this move received should be allowed to downplay the significance of it.

Think about it...

This is a guy that is going to be relied on to fill holes at first, third, left, and right whenever they may pop up.

And with the question marks being what they are at both corners of the infield with Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus' recent injury histories (even though Chipper led the Bravos in games played last season), you have to figure the Braves are expecting this guy to be ready at all times.

Oh, ad did I mention that he's likely to be the primary pinch-hitter?

Dude's got a lot on his plate.

That's why I'm expecting him to get into 90-120 games this season (15-25 at the hot corner, 15-35 for Glaus, 15-20 in the outfield, and 45-75 games as a pinch-hitter--depending on his playing time in the field).

And if he does that, then I think that we have to hope for more than the (granted, most of this was as a PH, though he did play 56 of his 93 games in the field at some point last season) .242 average, eight homers, and 52:27 K:BB ratio he posted last season in a season split between Pittsburgh and the World Champion Yankees (the third time in three years with his third different team that he's gone to the Series...confusing enough phrasing?...thought so).

His talent isn't what you could call elite, so I'm not calling on him to replicate his 2002 Rookie of the Year campaign in which he hit .274 with 24 homers and 13 steals.

But something similar to his 2006 when he split time between a near-full-time role in Toronto and a bench role in Boston and hit .271 with 13 homers from the left side of the plate in 109 games would, for me, be more than passable for any ailments the Braves' may suffer from at any of the corners in 2010.

No matter how many games he ends up playing, I believe that he's going to be pivotal in determining the Braves' October chances when he does get his chances.

Be they from the bench in the eighth and ninth or in the field when Chipper strains a muscle, his chances will be coming when the tension's tightest and pressure is highest...and his performance in those situations will, without a doubt, affect the outcome of plenty of games in Hotlanta this year.

Now, with the "pressure" segue out of the way, I'll get to work on the next X-Factor...Chipper Jones and his (hopeful) comeback.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Felipe Lopez and the Atlanta Braves: Just Thinking

Let me preface this by saying that I have seen no linkage of any kind between the Atlanta Braves and Felipe Lopez.

This is all speculation/thinking on my part.

OK, now we can start...

With the Johnny Damon saga seemingly headed towards a two year, $14 million resolution in Motown, the Atlanta Braves appear to have been left with a hole that they were willing to commit about $5 million to fixing at the top of the line-up.

Right now, they sit in the same position they found themselves in about six weeks ago when Troy Glaus donned his new jersey during a press conference at Turner Field (save the minor inking of Eric Hinske).

Ever since that time we've heard they the team "likes where they are."

But, apparently, the club liked itself better with a more legitimate lead-off hitter, as evidenced by the previously stated offer to Johnny Damon.

With that ship sailing slowly down the Detroit River, I (and Gavin Andrews) have started thinking about what else is "out there" to fill the hole the Braves have shown their hand at having at the top of the order.

And the one name that keeps coming around is Felipe Lopez.

You know, the dude that just dropped super-agent Scott Boras for the illustrious Beverly Hills Sports Council.

The 29-year-old Lopez seems like the ideal offensive fit to bat at the head of the line-up for the Braves.

His .310 average last season would have been second to only Matt Diaz among players who appeared in at least 100 games last year in Atlanta and his .383 OBP would have landed him right between Chipper Jones and Yunel Escobar for third among players who meet the same criteria previously stated.

Oh, and his six stolen bases would have made him fourth on the team.

Sounds like a lead-off hitter to me (especially since his 155 games played would have bested the best the Braves had to offer, Chipper Jones, by 12 games)

Now, before we move forward here, I'm going to let you know a couple of things.

I know that Felipe is an infielder.

I know the Braves' infield is crowded.

I know that doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense.

But consider this proposition (in the form of a PA announcement at the Ted): "Now batting for the Atlanta Braves, left fielder, Marteeeeeen Prado."

Before you angrily comment about that, I ask that you consider this: Martin Prado plays right field in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues and has mustered a total of five games (four in the bigs) in the outfield in his professional career.

The dude also hasn't proved to be (statistically speaking) the best infielder...posting a -1.4 UZR (I hate this stat too...I find it useful for some comparisons, though) compared to Lopez's 7.8 UZR at second base this past season.

So, how would all of this fall into place?

I think of it this way...

You sign Lopez to a one-year deal in the range of $3-4 MM with an eye to the future (moving Prado back to second and having an OF of McLouth-Schafer-Heyward in 2011).

After that, you trade one of Diaz or Leche to free up a spot (if Heyward wins a job out of Spring Training)...this sort of move would only preempt a move that would come with the OF I mentioned coming in another year.

Then, you set the line-up like this:

S 2B Felipe Lopez
R LF Martin Prado
S 3B Chipper Jones
R 1B Troy Glaus
L C Brian McCann
R SS Yunel Escobar
L CF Nate McLouth
L/R/S RF Heyward/Diaz/Cabrera

Now, you may be asking how that would help the team.

After all, having an inexperienced left fielder (even if he is a solid athlete...and many of us--myself included--thought Dan Uggla could be a fit in left just a month ago) would be compromising to the team's defense (like Loaf wasn't...) and neither of these guys would supply any additional power (Lopez only had nine homers last year).

Well, with a team that will (barring Damon choosing to sign for fewer years and dollars with the Braves) be relying on near total run "production," having one more high average/high OBP guy at the top of the order that has averaged 18 stolen bases per year over the course of his career wouldn't hurt.

Add to that his durability (at least 143 games in every "full" season) and consistency (only one sub-.274 year in any full season and one sub-.342 OBP season), and you would have the only "guaranteed" top-of-the-order option on the Braves' roster.

The questionable attitude's legitimacy is brought into question depending on where you go (though, the Braves have a solid foundation and the "issues" pop up in places that have nothing to play for), so I will leave that hit to people that know the dude.

I'm not saying that the Braves need to go out and ink the inked Puerto Rican, but I do believe that his presence would positively impact the Braves' efforts for postseason baseball.

That impact wouldn't be as great as Damon (who would complicate things a little less and be a very strong clubhouse influence), but, for me, his numbers during full-time play when his efforts mean something speak for themselves when it comes to discussing him as a lead-off option.

In other news...this is the first article that I've written since surpassing the one-year mark on Bleacher Report.

I know, it's hard to believe that people have been reading my baseball poop for over 365 days...and its an experience that can best be likened to this...

OK, maybe it's been better than that...thanks for reading, and Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Musings on the Atlanta Braves with 11 Days Left Until Spring Training

As with many of the late musings, little has happened in Bravesland.

Well, I should say that little had happened transaction/real news-wise...the blogosphere always yeilds something to discuss.

This musing is a day late, so I did have time to find one big-time juicy nugget to work with.

With that said, I see no other direction to go other than right into the content...

First thing, the Braves' Caravan.

No. I am not from the Braves' PR Department.

But, let me tell you, this is quite an experience.

Even though the event I want to in Charlotte this past Wednesday didn't have the cream of the Braves' traveling crop (Peter Moylan, Brooks Conrad, Otis Nixon, Eric O'Flaherty, Terry Pendleton, Zane Smith, and Frank Wren--who is surprisingly short...I'm 6'1" and when he walked by me before the autographs started he was probably a little above my shoulder), just to see the people that you've admired and followed in person is pretty cool.

Maybe that feeling came from the fact that I've never gotten any kind of autograph before...but still.

If the Caravan is going to come anywhere close to you in it's final week, I would highly recommend that you get to speak to the players, to get them to sign your stuff, and (if you're fortunate enough to have the event you attend be at a Wild Wing Cafe) great food.

I mean, look at how much fun homer was having... I filmed him on my low-quality cell phone camcorder (just so you know why the quality's so bad).

Oh, and, no, I wasn't skipping school...we had a snowday but the highways going from Winston to Charlotte were clear so a friend and I decided to go.

Second thing, what's with all the criticism of the Braves' rotation?

Now, this isn't the first time I've seen something like this quote I read from Mark Bradley's blog today.

But, it is the first time that I've seen an "expert" say this and I feel that this is a good base from which I can fully assert my opinions on this matter.

Here's the meat of Bradley's blog (which totaled 285 of his own words) in which he responded to/agreed wit Jon Heyman's analysis of the Braves' offseason:

"My two cents (hey, I’m cheap, too!): Even if the Vazquez trade helps the Braves down the road — I’m thinking of prospect Arodys Vizcaino — there was no way they should have surrendered the man who might well have been their Opening Day starting pitcher without getting a starting position player in return. (Cabrera is seen as a fourth outfielder.) And I don’t buy the argument that the Braves’ rotation will be just as strong without Vazquez.

With Vazquez, the fourth and fifth starters would have been Lowe, who even in a down year won 15 games, and Tim Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery in 2008. Without Vazquez, those two must move up a slot and Kenshin Kawakami, who won seven games last season, again becomes the No. 5 starter. I’m sorry, but that’s a downgrade."

Now, I'm not going to say that I have no idea where he's coming from with this...because I do.

This reaction (especially the part about KK only winning seven games last season...I'll go into more in a second) just strikes me as something that a very, very, very lazy person would write, though.

Not a paid sports journalist.

And I have some serious qualms with someone with the stage and "influence," if you will, of Bradley spewing something of this low of a caliber out (not saying that I'm the be-all, end-all of the Atlanta Braves or anything) without any real statistical backing.

I can tell you with full confidence that the 2010 version of the Braves' starting rotation will be just as strong and reliable as the 2009 version.

Timmy Hudson is a career 3.49 pitcher with 148 wins and served as (virtually) the Braves' ace from about 2006 until his Tommy John Surgery, posting 13, 16, and 11 wins in those seasons (with a 3.17 ERA through 22 starts in the 11-win campaign).

Right there is your replacement for Javy Vazquez who was due for a regression following a season in which he posted career bests in ERA, walks allowed, H/9, and HR/9 and his second best K total.

Jair Jurrjens is, simply put, Jair Jurrjens.

There's no reason his stuff, command, and mound presence shouldn't improve.

Tommy Hanson...see JJ.

He's young, his stuff's dynamic, and he didn't bat an eye against some of the best hitters the bigs have to offer.

Derek Lowe should gravitate back towards his career norms as Vazquez will.

I don't want to carry on for too long here, so I'll give you this link that gives you a nice, long explanation, if you care to read it.

Now we come to Kenshin Kawakami.

Even though the Japanese right-hander only posted seven wins last season, I'd like for you to examine this:

In the months of April, May, June, July, and August, Pitcher A started: 5, 6, 5, 5, and 5 games; posting an ERA of 3.38, 3.76, 1.98, 2.94, and 3.03; K totals of 42, 44, 39, 33, and 34; and 2, 2, 1, 3, and 3 wins in those months (this pitcher had 32 starts total).

Pitcher B started 4, 5, 5, 5, and 6 games with ERAs of 7.05, 3.03, 3.33, 4.72, and 2.87 with Ks totaling 18, 26, 16, 16, and 22 with 1, 2, 1, 1, and 2 wins (this pitcher had 32 starts total with some of his appearances in August coming in relief).

Pitcher C started 5, 6, 5, 6, and 6 games with 1.72, 3.38, 3.68, 2.09, and 3.65 ERAs, totaled 16, 24, 28, 25, and 29 Ks and had 2, 3, 0, 4, and 1 wins (this pitcher had 34 starts total).

Notice that if you throw out the highs and lows in ERA between A and B and do the same for strikeouts between B and C, you'll find that those pitchers (for either category) compare quite favorably.

It's obvious that Pitcher B was Kawakami, but when compared directly to Javier Vazquez (A) and Jair Jurrjens (C), he doesn't look too bad.

If he can continue to adjust to all of the factors that were working against him last season (culture and baseball), then he should only see improvement.

There's more to dissect in his blog, but I've already offered more in my rebuttal, if you will, than he typed up, so I'll stop with this here.

(That wasn't necessarily all about "calling out" Mark Bradley, it was more about this growing idea that the 2010 team lacks something the 2009 team had)

Last thing...

This isn't really so much of a "point," as much as it is a general question.

But, what's your favorite spring training facility?

I've only been to Legends Field (now Steinbrenner Field) in Tampa, but if I were to go back down, where would you say is the best place to see a game?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Atlanta Braves X-Factors: Derek Lowe

An X-Factor is, according to, an "unknown factor...which adds a a certain value to [an] object, element, or person."

(I know it's a general term, but bear with me...this is a poor attempt at a "hook" for this series)

For the Atlanta Braves, I believe there are several players (I think I've settled on five) that could easily have the word "X-Factor" slipped into their description for the upcoming season.

In the first edition of this series, I am going to be running up and down Derek Lowe and his potential impact on the team in 2010.

To avoid me rambling on for 200-300 words here, I think it's best that we go ahead and begin...

Last offseason the Braves, in haste following the less-than-pleasant departure of John Smoltz, inked then-35-year-old Derek Lowe to a four-year, $60 million deal to serve as the team's ace in front of the likes of Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami (who was signed shortly after Lowe), and one of two Tommy's (Glavine and/or Hanson).

And Lowe delivered...a 4.67 ERA with 111 Ks (to 63 BBs) while allowing a league-high 232 in 194.2 innings.

But hey, at least 15 wins?

It doesn't take too much to recognize that Lowe had a pretty bad year...especially at $15 million.

It looked even worse next to his teammates who posted 2.60, 2.87, 3.86, and 2.89 ERAs (respective to the order I had above).

That's why the Braves did everything they could to dump Lowe off to a team willing to take on the majority of the right-hander's ace-like deal after they inked Tim Hudson to an extension.

But, when the Braves could find no takers, they had to move down to their other non-cornerstone, move-able starter and deal Javier Vazquez to the New York Yankees for Melky Cabrera and a pair of Minor Leaguers (Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino).

So, as it stands right now, the Bravos are heading into Spring Training with a rotation looking a little like this:

1 R Tim Hudson
2 R Jair Jurrjens
3 R Tommy Hanson
4 R Derek Lowe
5 R Kenshin Kawakami

And for 1, 2, 3, and 5, you have to expect some special things.

Hudson's just that much further away from Tommy John Surgery; Jair Jurrjens' and Tommy Hanson's dynamic arms should only come out with more firepower in '10; and Kenshin Kawakami only improved last year as he adjusted to the cultural aspects, ball, mound, and hitters of Major League Baseball last season.

Lowe, the guy that was expected to be the "given" for the Braves' rotation for the next three years when he signed last offseason, stands as the only real "iffy" factor in the Braves' rotation as we look upon it here two weeks prior to pitchers and catchers reporting.

So, what should we be looking for from Derek Lowe in 2010?

After all, he's not getting any younger and hitter's aren't going to be cutting he any slack.

Well, I have a couple of thoughts...

First thing, I'm expecting the sinker to be a little more effective this go-'round.

Last season, Lowe had the lowest ground ball rate of his career (well, for as long as FanGraphs has been keeping up with GB%) at 56.3%.

That's compared to (including last season) a 63.4% career rate.

If you recall, the Jon and Boog (who has been replaced by the utterly disgraceful Chip Caray) discussed Lowe "tinkering" with his grip on his trademark sinker because of the increasing "sloppiness" from using his other grip.

This was around late-June and early-July.

And if you look at his month-by-month ERAs, you can see where this tinkering worked a bit.

In April and May, the Michigan native had very Lowe-like numbers as he posted 3.10 and 3.76 earned run averages, respectively.

In June, his ERA jumped to a Jo-Jo Reyes-esq 6.54 ERA, his worst numbers of any month in which he started more than one game.

If he did indeed make the adjustments that I just mentioned around the time that I stated, then it shows, as his ERA fell down to a very respectable 3.38.

Now, in August and September, his three digits went back to 5.08 and 5.61.

There were probably a variety of reasons for this, as he was probably runnin' on empty and losing heart before ultimately becoming completely heartless (the first link is for classic rock lovers, the second for modern pop-rock lovers, the last for Kanye fans).

But, I think the biggest factors were cropping up on the tips of D-Lowe's fingers in the form of blisters developing from his "adjusted" grip on his sinker.

This season, given nearly five full months to fix mechanical and grip-based issues, I think we can expect Lowe to come close to logging of full season's worth of 2009's positive months while reverting to his usual plus-60 groundball rate.

Number two, Lowe's got a chip on his shoulder.

In an interview with Mark Bowman this offseason, Lowe expressed his displeasure with the trade winds blowing through his backyard.

After the Vazquez trade he spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien and, basically, said that everything was in the past and he was excited about the upcoming season as he threw in a couple of other cliches that PO-ed ballplayers always use.

I don't know about you, but Lowe seems to have the personality conducive to turning anger into positive results.

That tenacity on the mound, you know.

I don't know the guy personally, so I cannot say that with certainty...but the TV tells me that it's there.

And if it is really there, then I think Lowe will have a very, very, very, (x10), strong season just so he can prove his critics wrong.

Cy Young?

Probably not.

But a strong veteran presence putting up better-than-league-average numbers?


To sum it up...

I'm not looking for Lowe to come in and dominate the league like his contract suggests he should (as he's making $1 million less than Justin Verlander's average salary shiny new 5-year extension in Mo-Town).

Those days are behind him.

But, I am expecting Lowe to come into with a fire inside and a nasty, non-blister-inducing sinker ready to join his fellow Brave starters in posting all sub-4.00 ERAs (you know, to make it a set).

If he can do that, I can live with saying "hey, if you average it out, JJ, Hanson, and Lowe average out to about $5 MM a piece...that's pretty reasonable" for another couple of years because that would mean that the Braves would have the best starting rotation in baseball.

Here's a toast to D-Lowe... we move on to Troy Glaus in the next "Atlanta Braves X-Factors."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Musings on the Atlanta Braves with 18 Days Left Until Spring Training

I think that this title should read "Musings on the Atlanta Braves with 18 Days Left Until Spring Training...and Some Other Stuff," but that goes beyond the B/R character limit for titles.

After all, not much has happened over the past six days since I wrote my last piece.

But, that itching feelings getting into my head...and I have to write something.

So, here we go, I guess.

First thing, new series.

Over the next couple of weeks (probably until pitchers and catchers report), I will be writing a series of articles called "The Six [or Five, or Ten, or...I haven't decided] X-Factors for the Atlanta Braves in 2010," hopefully with a much better title than that.

In it, I'm going to break down a number of things (gimme a number and I'll shoot for it, I guess) that I think will, at some point, have a huge impact on the Braves at some point this upcoming season.

So far, I know I'm going to do Troy Glaus, Derek Lowe, Chipper Jones' (hopeful) rebound, the Rookies, and a couple of other things (once again, no number, suggestions would be nice).

Why am I telling you this?

I was wondering the same thing as I typed and thinking "who's really going to care?"

Second thing, Jonathan Mayo's Top-50 Prospects List.

Not that a professional really needs my opinion to reassure his analysis, but it was good to see Jason Heyward at the top.

Was it a surprise?

No, not really.

In fact, I think the surprise would have been if someone else was at the top.

But just to see even more confirmation that we haven't been bull-s%$#&ed by the Atlanta media and ourselves (and most other prospect rankings) with the confirmation of a major outlet feels great.

Even if Mayo did say on the MLB Network special that Strasburg and Heyward were "close" for the No. 1 spot (we saw my opinion on that in the last musing), to see the Atlanta farm system carrying a future (recognized) stud to full term makes me smile.

The thought of him in Atlanta come June (or earlier) makes me more excited about a season than I think I have ever been.

Next up, advice.

This isn't me tooting my own horn or anything about my "experience" on Bleacher Report or anything, so go ahead and put your rocks down.

This is just something that I think needs to be said to the up-and-comers who may be reading this: don't use up all of your "stories" in your first two weeks on the site.

I remember when I first signed up...I was writing two and three articles a day (I had something like 16 articles after nine days).

And when I did that, I used up all of my good "this is why I feel this way," "my favorite player is," and "the five greatest Braves of all time" topics.

Whatever you those for later.

Or else you'll end up writing articles like this when you get that itch to write.

Last thing...ummm...

Unfortunately, I have failed to find a good segue in which I could use this:

So, I could not fulfill Joe Yanarella's request to infuse other forms of media into my articles while staying on topic.

I guess I'll just leave this final section blank and go ahead and sign off.

Thanks for bearing with the stupidity.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Musings on the Atlanta Braves with 24 Days Left Until Spring Training

Another news-less week has left me with little to say that hasn't already been at least mentioned before.

But, with these bland, beaten-to-death topics, old topics, comes some new perspective.

Makes me wish I had some contacts...

Anyway, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm ready for the Johnny Damon saga to end.

It's starting to feel a little bit like Jake Peavy 2.0...with less coverage from the media.

It's not so much that I want the Braves to get him (though it would be nice), I just want the sense of uneasiness and anticipation that comes with a situation like this one to stop.

I just want to see MLB Trade Rumors or (the new site I will be contributing to following Braves transactions--that's called a segue) featuring the headline "_____, Johnny Damon Agree to Terms" so I can either type up a positive reaction or stop checking my e-mail/MLBTR every two minutes.

If this drags out into mid-February, I might blow a gasket...though, I think that I've said that a couple of times now.

Next thing, Jair Jurrjens.

I was reading Mark Bowman's inbox today, and the first question was concerning the need to extend JJ a long-term contract.

Bowman basically said that the Braves will probably end up waiting to see whether or not JJ and, for that matter, Tommy Hanson, are going to be the real deal into the future.

Now, the Braves obviously are too limited by funds to risk dishing out $7-9 million per year over the next four to seven years (I'm thinking Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun length-deals at Cole Hamels salaries) and having either JJ or Big Red going down with catastrophic arm injuries.

But, these two have shown the abilities in their limited big league-showcases of number one's and two's that should only improve.

It's not my money, but I think that big-time extensions need to come in the next two to three years (which is what Bowman basically suggested).

The Braves cannot afford to lose this kind of talent (no s*@%, right?), and locking them up at this stage of their careers is going to be the only way to keep them from going to the New York's, Los Angele's, and Boston's of the world.

After all, Atlanta, especially sans-Cox, won't have the nostalgia it did when the Braves were able to get Greg Maddux and John Smoltz to come/stick around at sub-market value.

Last thing...Stephen Strasbug hype.

I was checking the prospect rankings today and found this little nugget.

If you don't feel like opening that link up, this is what the author, Frankie Piliere, said about the top-five prospects in the game (with their outstanding MiLB stats to the side):

5. Jesus Montero, C, NYY (.389 OBP, 17 homers)
4. Jason Heyward, OF, ATL (.408, 17 homers)
3. Desmond Jennings, OF, TB (.401 OBP, 52 steals)
2. Mike Stanton, OF, FLA (.341 OBP, 28 homers)
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSH (college)

Now I don't want to sound too whiny about one dude's top-5, but come on.

All five of these guys are special talents, but Heyward at four?

That's not my main gripe, though (it's probably No. 2).

My gripe is the overwhelming amount of feet-kissing for Strasburg.

I understand that he can throw 100 and that he has outstanding breaking stuff for his age (21), but did anyone see what he did in the Arizona Fall League (aka his only professional experience)?

Dude had a 4.26 ERA with 23 Ks in 19 innings.

As a point, Tommy Hanson's 0.63 ERA with 49 Ks in 28.2 innings barely got him into the top-5 in most rankings.

Look, I'm not trying to be overly nit-picky about meaningless projections, but I just don't think a guy can go from college phenom (you know, the place where talent is AA and less) to the next great thing for the Majors.

No doubt, I think this needs to be said, that his pure stuff makes him appealing...but can we let the guy get a few successful pro performances under his belt before putting him ahead of guys like Stanton, Jennings, and Heyward?

And in the words of my good friend Forrest Gump...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No. 17 Breaks Records With His Unorthodox Throwing Motion

Philip Rivers is possibly the most underrated quarterback in the NFL, and he is my choice for the best athlete to wear number seventeen.

I understand this will be a very unpopular pick with Basketball Hall of Framer John Havlicek, Pro Football Hall of Framer Red Badgro, and Former Pitcher Dizzy Dean all wearing the number seventeen.

Philip Rivers was arguably the best quarterback in North Carolina State history, demolishing almost every NC State and ACC passing record.

He also set a new benchmark for consistency in college football quarterbacks, setting a collegiate record 51 starts.

Under River’s leadership the Wolfpack went to four consecutive bowl games, winning three of them, including my favorite a New Year’s Day victory over the Norte Dame in the 2003 Gator Bowl.

He won many awards while at NC State including ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Athlete of the Year, MVP of Two Tangerine Bowls, and MVP of the 2003 Gator Bowl.

Rivers finished his career with 13,484 passing yards (4th all-time among Division 1-A quarterbacks, he was 2nd at the end of his collegiate career) and 95 touchdown passes, which ties him for eighth all-time with Kliff Kingsbury and Brady Quinn.

Coming into the 2004 NFL Draft, Rivers was projected to be an early first round draft pick in a quarterback class that included Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

After many questions about his arm strength and unorthodox throwing motion, the pre-draft consensus was that Rivers could be selected with the 11th pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Then Eli Manning said that if picked by the San Diego Chargers he would not sign with them, he was then traded to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers and draft picks that would be used on Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.

Rivers sent most of the 2004 and 2005 NFL seasons on the bench watching Drew Brees lead the Chargers into NFL supremacy, but after a dislocated shoulder to Brees the Chargers choose not to re-sign him and named Rivers the starter for the 2006 season.

Coming into the 2006 season Rivers had only five NFL starts, but that didn’t stop him from becoming an elite quarterback by throwing for over 3,000 yards with 22 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions that season.

Philip Rivers has only looked better since that season throwing a combined 55 touchdowns and 7,161 yards in the 2007 and 2008 NFL seasons.

In 2009 he throw for 4,254 yards and 28 touchdowns, making this season his second consecutive season with at least 4,000 passing yards.

Philip Rivers’ future is looking brighter every game, and he also has some of the most talented receivers, backs, and tight ends in the NFL to help with his success.

Rivers shows excellent pocket presence and has a quick release, so for Philip Rivers the sky is the limit.

Friday, January 22, 2010

North Carolina State Wolfpack Football: 2010 Top Recruits

The NC State Football program is coming off a very disappointing season where they won only fives game and lost seven.

Tom O’Brien’s team failed to earn a bid to a bowl game mainly because they failed to stop opposing offenses and they also struggled to protect Russell Wilson. That is very uncharacteristic of a team coached by Tom O’Brien.

O’Brien has seemed to what to improve these issues as four of his top five recruits are offensive lineman or defensive players

  • Robert Crisp is an offensive tackle out of Chapel Hill, N.C. and he is 6′7″, 302 lbs.

Crisp is a talented offensive lineman that will probably start out as a right tackle at N.C. State.

He has incredible height and athleticism, and his weight gives him a huge advantage especially in pass protection, where he is very consistent at leading with the hands and striking the defender first.

He possesses upper body strength and is impossible to power rush in drop back protection. And his huge wingspan keeps defenders from getting to his frame.

Crisp does a good job of locking out the pass rusher that comes straight ahead and setting back with quickness from both the three and two-point stance.

Though he anchors down in good leverage position, he sometimes still gets beat on the edge by speed rushers.

He gets caught flat footed and can’t recover, and needs to narrow his base once anchored in order to shuffle and change direction.

Currently more consistent in quick set than deep drop protection, he demonstrates good foot agility in the run game.

He gets good knock-back off the line of scrimmage when pads stay down and is powerful enough to drive defenders to the second level.

He is still inconsistent at finishing blocks but, at times, completely dominates the opponent.

His athleticism shows in pulls and traps, and he displays good knee bend when delivering a blow at the second level or down field.

Crisp has the potential to be an outstanding offensive lineman once he gets more consistent in the passing game.

He has very sound fundamentals and good quickness for such a large man.

  • Fre’Shad Hunter is a defensive lineman out of Cary High School in Cary, North Carolina.

He is 6′4″, 250 pounds, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 4.93 seconds.

Hunter is a versatile defensive lineman, he played both defensive tackle and defensive end while in high school.

He has good size, he has shown good strength, and many scouts say he has “more room to grow.”

Hunter has a good first step and when he rushes the passer he has a nice set of moves.

He does need to work on his hand movement and his flexibility, but besides that he has a ton of potential.

  • Tony Creecy is a wide receiver/running back from Durham, North Carolina and he is 6′0″ tall, he weighs 195 pounds, and his 40-yard dash time is 4.45 seconds.

Creecy is the definition of a utility player and while in high school he played many positions but his two best ones are wide receiver and running back.

He has the hands of a receive, but he also has the lower body strength of a running back.

Many scouts believe he has field vision and toughness to be a 20-carry back, but he also has the smarts of a wide receiver.

His skill set makes him best suited as a slot receiver, that is best as NC State has an overload at running back.

  • David Amerson is a free safety from Dudley High School in Dudley, North Carolina. He is 6′1″, 182 pounds, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

Amerson is tall and athletic, which is very impressive as he is a free safety.

He is a true “centerfielder” that understands route progression and anticipates the quarterbacks release of the football.

Amerson breaks quickly on the pass and is impressive at undercutting the receiver to defend the pass or to create an interception.

He says he can bench 275 pounds, squat 455 and claims a 36-inch vertical jump.

Amerson has stated that he would like to get bigger, to add about 20 pounds of muscle.

  • Torian Box is a offensive guard from North Clayton High School in College Park, Georgia.

Box is 6′3″, 294 pounds, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 5.31 seconds.

Torian Box is a good offensive lineman and he projects as an offensive guard.

Box isn’t the tallest offensive lineman but he plays well for his size, he also has a strong upper body and has active feet.

Box at times plays a little high and needs to work on his flexibility, but other then that he should be a nice addition to Tom O’Brien’s team.

  • Dontae Johnson is a safety from The Pennington School in Pennington, New Jersey.

Johnson is 6′3″, 180 pounder, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

Dontae is a big intimidating safety who could one day learn to become an outside linebacker.

Johnson is very physical safety and he like to make contact and is also very aggressive.

He calms to be able to bench 215 pounds and to have a vertical jump of 34 inches.

Johnson also is a forward for his AAU basketball team, that also is a good sign as it means he is very athletic.

  • Tyler Brosius is Quarterback from Tuscola High School in Waynesville, NC. He is 6′3″, 232 pounder, and his 40 yard dash time is unknown.

Brosius is a really productive quarterback with very good overall size

He has good arm strength and the ability to make plays despite him lacking of consistent mechanics and fundamentals.

He is thickly built and tall enough to see the field, his only downfall is his riverboat gambler quarterbacking style.

  • Thomas Teal is a defensive tackle from Malboro County High School in Bennettsville, South Carolina.

Teal is 6′1″, 330 pounder, and he runs a 40-yard dash in 5.50 seconds.

Teal is an interesting prospect, he is a big boy who carries a large amount of bulk for his build.

On film though he seems to carry his weight well for a kid well over 300 pounds.

He has played offensive guard before but he fits better as a defensive lineman, but he could make the transition if necessary.

  • Andy Jomantas—DE/OT, Chaminade Julienne High School (Dayton, Ohio), 6′8″, 250 pounds.
  • D.J. Green—Safety, Westside HS (Macon, GA), 6′4″, 202 pounds, 4.77 seconds(40-yard dash).
  • Reggie Wilkins—Cornerback, Crest Senior HS(Shelby, NC), 5′11″, 180 pounds, Soft Verbal
  • A.J. Ferguson – Defensive End, Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, VA), 6′3″, 250 pounds.
  • Tyson Chandler—Offensive Tackle, Fork Union Military Academy (Fork Union, VA), 6′6″, 340 pounds.
  • Raynard Randolph—Defensive Tackle, Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, VA), 6′2″, 325 pounds.
  • Tobais Palmer—Runningback, Georgia Military (Milledgeville, GA), 5′10″, 165 pounds.
  • Logan Winkles—Fullback, Upson-Lee High School (Thomaston, GA), 6′1″, 245 pounds, 4.70 seconds (40-yard dash time).
  • Pete Singer—Safety, Athens Drive High School (Raleigh, NC), 5′11″, 175 pounds, 4.50 seconds (40-yard dash time).
  • Theo Rich—Defensive End, Portal Middle/High School (Portal, GA), 6′2″, 225 pounds.
  • Mikel Overgaard—Offensive Tackle, Snow (Ephraim, UT), 6′6″, 270 pounds.
  • Artemus Norman—Defensive End, Chamblee High School (Chamblee, GA), 6′0″, 205 pounds, 4.87 seconds (40-yard dash time).