Monday, May 11, 2009

Channeling the Construction Worker from "Major League"

Deese guys ain't too bad.

The Braves have crawled back to 16-16 on the strength of a 5-1 stretch against the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets. After the last few years of dismal pitching, it's quite the treat to know that chances are better than 50/50 that Atlanta is going to get a quality start when a starter goes to the hill. When is the last time that we could say that? And if this team can stay in the picture until August and then insert Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson into the rotation?

I'm probably about five years behind the time in using "Three True Outcomes" as a measure for a baseball team and Peacedog will let me know the error of my ways in the comments, but the Braves look good in all three departments relative to their opponents:

Home runs:
Braves - 26
Opponents - 22

Walks received:
Braves - 129
Opponents - 109

Strikeouts by pitchers:
Braves - 247
Opponents - 193

When's the last time that the Braves had a K/BB ratio of better than 2/1? OK, I just looked and it was 2007. Not that impressive. Maybe I'm getting carried away by competent pitching for 32 games. The Braves' pitchers are first in the NL in fewest homers allowed, second in the NL in strikeouts, and fourth in fewest walks allowed. As for the defense, it is 8th in park-adjusted defensive efficiency, so this isn't a Tampa scenario where a better defense is causing spill-over effects on the staff. This is just better pitching.

As for the offense, it's middle-of-the-pack, which isn't the end of the world in light of the facts that Brian McCann has been out for long stretches and Kelly Johnson has performed below his ability. The outfield looks about like the disaster that we anticipated. Jeff Francoeur's OBP is on the wrong side of .300, Jordan Schaefer is striking at a mammoth pace (although he's 22 and we're going to cut him a lot of slack because, unlike Francoeur, he's patient), and the knife is fully sticking out of Garret Anderson's back, save for the big hit he had in the seventh against the Phillies on Sunday. The infield is good, bolstered by an excellent first 20% of the season from Casey Kotchman.

Speaking of the bats, no Brave has more than three homers right now. The lineup is balanced, but are we trying some sort of homage to the deadball era by having a team without a hitter getting to 20 homers for the season? This team certainly isn't honoring 1980s NL baseball because the team leader in the stolen base department steal. That's all? One g-ddamned steal?


peacedog said...

And I believe we are now 141-139 RS-RA, so we're right at the Pythagorean (but it's still early). Baseball reference tweaked its look and layout some recently, so I Can't seem to find my way to the team offensive/pitching ranks right now, but I agree that the Braves being up in these categories is very much a positive. It's not a big margin in some cases (Hr) but it's noteworthy in others (20 more walks in 32 games, and that's 2+ ks per game by our staff). As Don casually pointed out last night, the Bullpen really has settled down (*knocks on wood*) since the early going. Indeed, if not for Reyes' friday night error. . . well point being we seem to have come out of the ugly free fall, where bad breaks as much as anything else were hurting us. Teams have periods like that sometimes.

I think the good news on the hitting front is as you noted; McCann has missed time (and now he can see again). Chipper has missed some games as well, and will provide power over the course of the season (alas, those 35+ hr years are long gone, I'm afraid). Infante has been a pleasant surprise so far. KJ has room to improve.

Francouer's season is particularly interesting. His Ks really are way down, but he isn't walking and is no longer providing anything resembling power. I don't have access to it right now but I'd like to look at his Contact Rate as well as his GB/Line drive/FB ratios. I wonder if a change in approach has sapped power, though it's possible he's still adjusting and could come out of this a better hitter. Help, alas, is not on the way. Heyward is off to a nice start but missed a whole week for some unknown reason (and it actually dampened what was turning into a hot start), but he's still just at A+. I think in this draft the Braves need to get a nice young staple of hitters.

Don't rule out Kris Medlen, either. He's arguably out pitching Hanson (lastnight 6.2 ip, 3h, 2bb, 6k), giving up fewer hr (though Hanson's numbers are fine here, even with giving up 3 solor hr in his last outing), having slightly better control, and getting a healthy dose of GB outs. The big question with him, I think, is how will his arm translate (he has really good k numbers but doesn't throw that hard) and how durable will he be (he's 5-11, listed as 175 now). He's sure to get a look at some point.

Anyway, I', definately ok with the Schafer ks (for now), given the walk total. He's going to have ruts, though, given that he's a first year guy. Despite the overall stats (.719 ops I think?), I'm pleased with him.

Alan said...

With all that it's amazing the Braves are at .500. It's also nice to see Casey Kotchman heating up. He's really needed. I wrote a litle more about it at Leave comments, etc. It's a new blog that I'm trying to build up.