Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random Thoughts on the Braves

1. It might be a little premature to label Jorge Campillo as the second coming of Sandy Koufax or even Jorge Sosa, but wow did he look good last night. Six innings, three hits, seven strikeouts, no walks. There are obvious sample size issues with looking at one start and there is also a concern that hitters will get the measure of Campillo once there is more tape of his pitches. That said, he looked really good last night. It wasn't just that he was getting people out. To my admittedly untrained eye, his pitches looked really good. He was locating everything on the corners, there was all sorts of movement, and he changed speeds nicely. With Chuck James having officially crapped out (the [hopefully] final tally for the year: seven homers allowed in 23 innings pitched), Campillo has an opportunity to wedge his way into the rotation.

2. The Braves have allowed 166 runs this year, which is the fewest in the NL. The next closest NL team in terms of run prevention are the D-Backs at 185. All hail Roger McDowell and a defense that eats up balls in play.

3. After spending a winter ripping Rich McKay and Don Waddell and defending Billy Knight on admittedly tenuous evidence, it's really nice to watch a properly run professional sports franchise. Take the Braves' centerfield situation. Our former centerfielder has a whopping .547 OPS at $18M per year. Our current centerfielder, whom I swear covers more ground that the current incarnation of Andruw Jones, has an .814 OPS and we're paying him peanuts. (One caveat to the Frank Wren love-in: Joey Devine, the pitcher the Braves traded to acquire Kotsay, has been lights out for the A's.) I've been afraid to say any nice things about Mark Kotsay because of his injury history, but now seems as a good a time as any to point out that he's another steal by the Braves' management.

4. Has anyone else found it odd that the Braves have copied the Hawks by being a much better team at home than on the road? A little split between home and road performance is to be expected, but 18-5 versus 6-16 is an awfully big disparity.

5. If the Braves look to improve the team in the trading market, the spots that seem to be ripe for improvement are the corner outfield spots, which ought to be the easiest spots to fill (next to adding bullpen depth, which the Braves won't need if Smoltz, Rafael Soriano, and Mike Gonzalez are all reasonably healthy). The Braves are a really weird team in that respect. They get excellent offensive production from the positions that are hardest to fill: shortstop, catcher, second base, and (to a lesser extent) centerfield. The Braves' lowest OPSs among regulars belong to Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz. Frank Wren would likely provoke riots in the northern suburbs if he replaced Francoeur, so left field seems like the one spot where the Braves might look to add a piece in June and July.

(One note: the Braves could obviously use additional starting pitching, but that's true for just about every team in baseball. The trade market for starters is a losing proposition because the demand far outstrips the supply. If Atlanta needs help in the rotation, it's far more likely to find it in the farm system. It's likely that the Braves are going to call on Richmond for help in August and September in light of the fact that Tom Glavine is probably going to wear down because he's old and Jair Jurrgens is probably going to wear down because he's young.)


peacedog said...

Starter help Plan A: Charlie Morton. He's 24 and has pitched both as a starter and out of the pin, allegedly throws hard (96-97) and didn't do much for his first few years in the minors. He never gave up many homers.

And then the light started coming on last year, and he finished strong and pitched respectably in winter ball.

This year at Richmond, he's been lights out. In 54 IP he has 42 K, 17 BB, and 36 hits allowed. No HR. 2.00 ERA. His K% is right where it's always been: high teens (19% or so this year; 7 per 9 inn), and his BB% has dipped from low to mid teens to 8%, following a trend last year. Ground Ball % is over 50 right now and was in winter ball (slightly below 50 before this).

Neil Young & Geraldo said...

The Braves really are one of the best run franchises in all of pro-sports. Its a shame that the peeps in Georgia can't get wholeheartedly behind them -- whether or not they won more than one championship in the 1990s.

I have a ton of respect for our top-management team (TMT). Its pretty much the same integral pieces since 1990 and boy have they performed. You are right Michael-- when you compare the other franchises in the ATL with this one, they all seem like the jokes they tend to be.

Btw, can anyone think of the biggest clubhouse "drama" that we've had in the past 18 years? Although the Braves get ripped for having a "laissez-faire"clubhouse (it especially gets brought up when they lose in the post-season), they sure don't ever seem to be fighting. At all. Unlike - say - the Mets of this year. So, in my mind, the TMT goes above and beyond putting quality "individuals" on the field; they actually construct and manage a well-functioning "team". This seems to be an overlooked (and admittedly hard to quantify) characteristic of those pro-sports franchises that have achieved similar long-term success.

In other news, WTF is up with American charging me $15 for my first checked bag!!?? Is anyone else equally outraged! I mean I'm pissed!

peacedog said...

Choices for biggest club house controversy:

1. Deon. Gave Tim McCarver a bath (yes, this is technically a good thing). Irked management alot by not showing up at functions he was supposed to and popping off in the media. Maybe didn't take baseball as seriously as we wanted.

But was not, to the best of my knowledge, a bad teammate. I don't really know for sure how he was as a club house presence but I suspect "outspoken" was the extent of it and that's harmless.

2. John Rocker - outspoken without enough forethought. Again, I don't know that he was unliked or anything, though players sure distanced themselves from him once he started stumbling.

3. Kenny Lofton - perhaps the truest "bad presence". He came. He sulked. He sucked in the post season. He was gone after a year.

He was used to a very different style of clubhouse and I get the sense that he never got comfortable. Also, he complained significantly in the media about playing hurt, even suggeting there was tons of pressure on him to play like that down the stretch. The thing was, most everyone fan-wise was content for him to sit large portions of the season as long as he could be healthy for the play offs. Bobby likes his guys to tough it out but if someone has a significant injury that impacts them (e.g. a Hammy, though I don't recall what Kenneth's was), I don't get the sense he leans on them to play. Certainly, any pressure was only from his peers and maybe the front office and I kind of doubt his peers were a problem.

Lofton is the only person I think we eagerly shipped out after one year. Oh, there were mistake signings, but I think this is the only one that might have had ill feelings accompanying it.

Andrew B said...

Starter Help Plan B:

The Padres continue to fall out of the race and send Greg Maddux to the Braves in mid-July for Manny Acosta.

Steve S said...

Bonds in LF!

Ryno said...

Don't you think outfield production will not be as scrutinized once Tex starts hitting his stride?

Seems like Francouer and Diaz's "free-swingingness" will be minimized if Tex hits 40 dongs.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Seems worth mentioning the Braves have the worst record in one-run games in the majors by a mile and a half: 2-12, with the next-worst Seattle's 3-9. Their expected win-loss is second in the majors', only to the Cubs. Once their luck catches up to their play, they should run away with (well, maybe not "run away with," but at least win by a few games) the division.