Monday, April 23, 2007

My Sports Teams Giveth...

Great win for the Braves yesterday over the Mets, wrapping up an opening stretch of the season in which they took four of six from the most talented team in the NL. The Braves are getting great production from the top of their order right now, which is off-setting the lack of production from left field and first base. A few disjointed thoughts on the game and the season so far:

1. I might be dragged kicking and screaming into this "Jeff Francoeur is clutch" school of thought before the end of the year. Yesterday, he came up in a 1-1 game, mired in a typical slump, and promptly stroked a two-run single with a nice piece of hitting, staying back on an inside pitch and driving it up the middle.

2. Three true outcomes update: the Braves lead the NL in homers and only four teams have allowed fewer homers. The Braves have drawn more walks than any team other than the Phillies. On the negative side, only two teams have issued more walks and only one team has struck out more.

3. If you haven't seen Smoltz's play on Glavine's swinging bunt yesterday, you owe it to all that is good in the world to see the highlight. In a nutshell, Glavine hit a dribbler down the third base line. Smoltz sprinted over to the ball, cutting off the lumbering Chipper Jones in the process, and in one motion fielded the ball and threw a strike to first while falling away. That said, Smoltz and Glavine both clearly tired in the middle innings yesterday, most likely because it's early in the season and it was a hot day at Shea. Both were outstanding for about five innings and then came unglued.

4. I heart Kelly Johnson.

5. It would surprise me if the Braves can stay with the Mets all season. You can see what an extra $30M in payroll buys you when you can trot out Shawn Green (whom I'm probably overrating because of his ability to kill the Braves and no one else) and Moises Alou towards the bottom of your order. The Mets are a half-game behind the Braves, but their run differential is significantly better. I'm also a tad concerned about the Braves' bullpen, which has allowed a ton of runners so far this year and has been flirting with disaster. It's time for the Pittsburgh Mike Gonzalez to appear.

5a. It's interesting to me that the Mets and Yankees spend more than anyone else in baseball (as well as that team in Boston) and yet they have questionable pitching. To me, that just illustrates the difficulty in determining that any pitcher is a sure thing. Position players are more durable and their performances are more consistent on a yearly basis. Thus, the Gotham investments in players like Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon are fairly predictable, but their investments in Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, or...just about every pitcher the Yankees have signed in recent memory are risky. I don't know that there is a solution. Rather, this is another random element that makes baseball unpredictable.

6. And speaking of variant pitching performances, Tim Hudson was unhittable on Friday night. He bears no resemblance to the guy who was so poor last year. The Mets have a terrific lineup and they were reduced to a series of weak dribblers on the infield. I'm just waiting for the oblique injury that ruins everything.


Grandy said...

I think that at bat for Francouer (as well as other atbats thus far), more than anything, suggests that he might really be trying to do something different. Like I said in my email, we'll talk at the break. I feel like we'll have a real idea about what he's up to be then. As for his clutch hitting, we can resume this conversation around at bat #5000.

If we keep walking like this, the Ks may not matter much. Kelley Johnson may not continue at this pace all season, but surely the 1b/lf production will get better as well (26k in 66ab from Wilson/Langerhans).

The bullpen will have to get better, no doubt.

LD said...

On the K's: it's an out. Sometimes it's worse than another kind of out (when you could move up a runner), sometimes it's better than another kind of out (double play groundout).

Yesterday in the 8th, Langerhans (while pinch hitting for Yates) struck out with two men on and one out. Johnson then hit the three-run go ahead homer. Had Langerhans grounded out, it would've been an inning ending DP, and a completely different result in the game.

High numbers of strikeouts can be bad, but when balanced with a high OBP, they even out with all other types of outs. I.E., Ryan Howard had a barrelful of Ks last year, but was one of the best players in the game because of his high numbers of walks.

Michael said...

I'm not sure that I buy the sabremetric line that there is no such thing as clutch hitting. In fact, wasn't it you who said that Bill James now thinks that he doesn't know whether it does or does not exist, whereas before he said that it definitely didn't exist? I can see the logic for it because it stands to reason that: (1) certain guys respond well to pressure; and (2) certain guys tend to focus more in big spots. I can see Francoeur being inattentive at the plate on most at-bats and then focusing in in bigger spots. Of course, this would not so much mean that he's clutch, but rather that he needs to focus more in the second inning with one out and one on, as the runs count the same in the second as they do in the 8th.

You guys are right about Ks. There's little correlation between a high number of Ks for an offense and a lack of production.

Anonymous said...

Francouer is now 7 for 13 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.

Bill James is a wonderful man, but its tough to put a statistic on a player who wakes up in the morning dreaming of being up with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th and one who gets a little nervous just thinking about it.

Don't think that there aren't guys in the MLB who get way too tight in pressure situations.

Grandy said...

Mike, my at bat comment is primarily because even i there is such a thing as clutch hitters, and Francouer is a candidate, we probably won't be able to say with certainty for a very long time. 500 ABs is actually not a paritcularly large sample size, as it turns out, and when we're discussing situational ABs obviously things can get far less plentiful. Francouer could finish the year hitting .500 with 2 outs and RISP, and then hit .270 in the next 5 years doing it.

Also, I wake up in the morning dreaming of the wonderful life Jessica Alba and I have together in an alternate reality. Those dreams and a quarter will get me a cup of coffee.