Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brave New Thoughts

Possibly the worst title for a post in this blog's history, but I need something in that subject line.

1. I watched most of the game on Sunday (I could get used to the idea of waking up at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday and watching a game while still in bed) and got very frustrated by Bobby. John Thomson was in complete command of the game through six innings, having allowed one baserunner through six (on a soft single) on only 74 pitches. I know the guy didn't have a full spring training, but lifting him after only 74 pitches? And instead leveraging a bullpen that has thrown a ton of innings over the first two weeks of the season? The Braves' starters have been a major weakness, with the exception of Smoltz and Thomson, so Cox needed to get as much as he could from a starter on a rare day where the Braves were getting a good start. On the other hand, Cox has always been great at making decisions that pay off over the six-month marathon and his regular season record is impeccable, so I'll defer to him on that front.

2. Mayhem in the AM had Chris Dimino on this morning from New York, which excited me because it meant that at least one person on the radio would be able to comment intelligently about the Braves. Instead, just about every question they asked him was about the Mets. For once, I was buying the criticisms of Atlanta as a sports town. I expect ESPN to fall over themselves to hype the Mets ("Wait, we can hype the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets? All in one season? And pay lip service to the hinterlands? Outstanding!"), but when the pre-eminent morning sports talk show spends all their time fawning over the Mets two weeks into the season, we have a problem. The term "carpetbaggers" came repeatedly rolling from my mouth as if I was Nathan Bedford Forrest, and I actually like the Mayhem guys. I'm now embarrassed. Let's move on.

The Gary Carter jersey is in the sack.

(In defense of Mayhem, they followed up their love-making session with the Amazins with a great two-part interview with Michael Gearon, one of the Atlanta Spirit owners. For one thing, it was nice to hear actual discussion of the Hawks that went beyond "we should have drafted Chris Paul." The most interesting nugget that emerged from the discussion was Gearon challenging Nick Cellini on his repeated assertions that Luol Deng is better than Josh Childress. Gearon said that Billy Knight's rationale for not taking Deng was that he had body that would lead him to be injured regularly. [Deng has been healthy all year this year, so that might have been a mistake.] Gearon went on to say that Childress is the player that other teams ask for the most when approaching the Hawks with trade offers, which indicates that he has value that scouts see, but that doesn't show up in terms of points and rebounds. By the end of the interview, I was fired up about a 25-55 team. I'm embarrassed yet again. Let's move on.)

3. The objective for the Braves in April and May is to stay close so their customary summer run can vault them into the lead in the division. The Mets aren't going to play .833 ball over the course of an entire season. Xavier Nady isn't Babe Ruth and they still have Jose Reyes and Paul LoDuca at the top of their lineup. (A related point would be to say that they still have Willie Randolph as their manager and we have Bobby Cox.) The Braves' major concern right now has to be their starting pitching. Tim Hudson can't possibly be worse than he's been in his first three starts, but even assuming that he turns it around (and Wednesday would be a great day for him to do so, since he owned the Mets last year), the Braves are still weak at the four and five spots in the rotation. Jorge Sosa is proving that his peripherals were a better measure of his merit last year than his 13-3 record, Kyle Davies is still pitching like he did after his first month as a starter last year, and Horacio Ramirez...well, let's not go there. The pitching has me concerned enough that Chuck James' ten good innings in relief all of a sudden have me clamoring for him to be thrown into the starting rotation. And to think that Schuerholtz wanted to trade Thomson in spring training because we had plenty of starters. If the starting pitching can be shored up, then the Braves will stay close to the Mets, then make a run that will remind the Mets that they aren't supposed to win the division.


Ed said...

It seems to me the biggest problem for the Braves right now is not the starting pitching (which will get better, if only because there are numerous options) nor is it the bullpen, but rather the offense. The Braves have 5 everyday players on a pace to strike out at least 100 times (including LaRoche who is on pace for 230 strikeouts or thereabouts). Even worse, the utility players (Betemit, Orr, Jordan, Pratt, Diaz) have combined for 27 strikouts in 89 ABs, or 1 strikout per 3.3 ABs. Betemit, despite his pretty average, has been one of the worst offenders.

That's a lot of empty at-bats for a team to absorb. Is it going to get better? Maybe, (I mean I can't imagine LaRoche getting any worse), but there is a definite lack of plate discipline top-to-bottom in this lineup, and I have a feeling that the offense is not going to be as lethal as some have forecasted based on the hot start.

Michael said...

I think the current consensus is that strikeouts aren't an especially important measure for hitters, certainly not like they are for pitchers. After all, most of the best sluggers strike out a lot. The Braves are 3rd in the NL in walks drawn and 2nd in homers, so they're doing well in the more important of the three true outcomes.

I agree with you on LaRoche. I gave up on him (for the most part) last year and he's no better this year. I just don't know if his bat is fast enough.

peacedog said...

Mike we need to examine strikeouts in context (that's true for pitchers too).

Jim Thome struck out 100 times a season for his career (more or less). Why was he able to post .300 batting averages, 40 hr seasons, and be a feared slugger? The 100 walks are just as telling. Thome's outputs (ba, hr) exceeded what some of his inputs told you he should have (iirc his contact rate is career in the low 70s, which is outside the norm, just). However, he had a judicious batting eye and big HR hitters always get some strikeouts. Thome's ability to work counts and hit balls 450 feet made up for the Ks.

Strikes without good walks, or a contact rate that stays reasonable in some way shape or form do generally point to someone who can't hit for shit.

Giles has a decent batting eye. Chipper's is excellent. Andruw you are well acquainted with. The rest? We'll see. But K's alone don't tell the tale.

Let's look at our 5 so called 100 k candidates:

Andruw - producing at career norms. On pace to walk 60ish times. Looks like he's lined up for a good season (Baseball HQ says .273 41).

Giles: those 14 Ks are matched by 14 walks (he might be close to breaking out of a slump too, I need to look at the line scores more closely but if a hitter isn't hitting but drawing walks, he's partially unlucky. KJ's bust out last year was foreshadowed in this manner). Both are ahead of career paces. He wiffed 100 times last year and was on pace in 04. Injuries may have caused that (only 80 in 03), who knows. But, he always walks at a decent clip, has a career batting eye of over .6 I think (which is getting into pretty decent territory), and is on pace to have a fine season.

Francoer - well, we knew to expect this.

LaRoache - dito. Also remember that exposure to lefties could exacerbate his numbers, but he's off to a decent start all things considered. Braves though he could be a .300 hitter, but he probably can't ever be with his current level of plate discipline.

Langerhans: Baseball HQ has him on page for a .800 ops, .277-11 homer season (370ish ABs). 11 BB% (which is solid) and 78% contact (right towards the low end). .56 batting eye, suggesting that they think the current numbers (8/11) will split further, but nto much further.

Bottom line: two of these hitters are drawing walks at a decent to good clip. One is approaching career norms (Andruw). The other two are young guys not noted for plate discipline (and LaRoche's start could cool if he continues at his current discipline pace). But, it's not quite as bad as Ed makes out.

You're right that we're drawing walks at a good clip, and that very much matters. We won't draw as much sans Chipper, and it shows how much we need him healthy (alas, we may never quite get that again. I'd like to take this time to say "screw you Barry, this is how everyone who doesn't juice up has to deal")

Sheffield and Drew, for the record, were both high walk guys. But the latter K'd at a decent clip (didn't matter, when he was healthy). Sheffield used to post freaky numbers (like 1.5 batting eyes and 150+ power index scores). But then he probably roided some as well. I digress.

First base is Salty's job anyway. I know they're keeping him at Catcher right now, but just like Allen Bailey (who is insisting he wants to play LB in college), thee planets will align and all will be as it should.

Ed said...

I don't really follow what the sabermetricians have to say about strikeouts (though that was an informative post, peacedog). I feel like I did cloud my case a bit by citing the 100 strikeout-barrier, as if that, in itself, is some definitive number that separates the plate-disciplined from the hackers.

I think you can go case by case with these hitters and justify the strikeouts. Andruw Jones will strike out 100 times this season, and I have no problem with that whatsoever - for obvious reasons. Francouer, if he plays everyday, will strike out 120 times or so, and I really don't have a problem with that given his power, though I wouldn't mind seeing 30 walks or so mixed in. Giles will also surpass 100 strikeouts (he did last year), but he has shown a good eye so far in terms of walks, and he's also good for 45 doubles and 15 homers, which may make up for that. That same logic can be applied to Langerhans and Betemit as well, though I think in the case of the latter the strikeout-rate is way too high.

LaRoche's strikeouts are intolerable. But we knew that.

The real problem, though, is the cumulative effect of having so many people in your lineup that strike out a lot (Renteria also struck 100 times last year, though early signs this year indicate that 2005 was an aberration). It just doesn't seem to me to be a lineup that will generate a lot of runs when the hot hitters trail off. Maybe, I'm wrong about that, and the ability to draw walks will offset the strikeouts. I agree that having Chipper back will help enormously. I'm just concerned by the fact that the Braves are leading the league in strikeouts by quite a distance so far this year (incidently, they also have 71 more strikeouts than walks, which is the highest differential in the majors). That doesn't seem to bode well to me.