Monday, June 20, 2005

Let's not start sucking each other's....

With apologies to the Wolf, that's my take on the Braves' 4-3 road trip. Yes, it was nice to see a team that had been playing poor baseball win four out of six at a stretch. Yes, it's nice that they are staying within striking distance of the top of the division. That said, the team's offense came alive in two of the most hitter-friendly stadia in baseball against the following motley crew of starters:

RHP Pedro Astacio (2-7, 5.60)
RHP Ramon Ortiz (2-4, 6.10)
LHP Eric Milton (3-8, 7.97)
RHP Luke Hudson (1-1, 6.55)

Hopefully, the experience of hitting against these weak pitchers will give the bats some confidence, but it's a waste of time trying to read too much into an offensive outburst against those guys. If the Braves have solid performances against A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis this week, then we'll know that the team is officially playing better. Incidentally, the Braves go up against Dontrelle on June 23, the anniversary of their low-point in 2004: a 6-0 shutout loss to the Marlins and Brad Penny that represented their third loss in a row and dropped the team to six games under .500.

Other thoughts from the weekend:

1. I'm willing to accept Kelly Johnson's excellent performance with the bat as being more than just feasting on bad pitching. Even when he was 1-30, I liked watching him hit because he has terrific plate discipline and he tends to hit line drives. It was a matter of time before he started to hit and you'll have to take my word that I thought as much before he doubled his OPS in the space of a week. Maybe I'm crazy, but he reminds me of Chipper at the plate with his stance, his selectivity, and his swing. He doesn't have Chipper's power, but watching him hit makes me wonder why the Braves were fooling with Mondsi and Jordan for two months. His 12 walks equal Mondesi's total in 88 fewer at-bats. Right now, I feel far more comfortable with him in the lead-off role than I do with Furcal, whose shoulder apparently prevents him from hitting competently. I suspect that we'll see a lot of Betemit in place of Furcal in the coming months, especially if Wilson keeps hitting at a .330/.412/.636 clip. Now I'm channeling Lou Brown from Major League: there's two or three potential all-stars there.

1a. Incidentally, Johnson's .737 OPS, which is admittedly inflated by a small sample size and his torrid week, is .039 points higher than that of Aubrey Huff, the player whom the Braves were supposedly trying to acquire to solve their leftfield problem. The more I look at the mid-season trading market, the more I see overrated closers and otherwise average hitters whom the media in various cities are going to clamor for and then bitch when their hometown team shows that they "don't care about winning" by not mortgaging the future for them.

2. What in the name of Tom Browning has happened to the Reds' pitchers? How can a team assemble a good lineup with Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, Jr., Sean Casey, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Joe Randa and then let them die on the vine with a dreadful starting pitching staff? That's a wild card capable lineup and a Double-A pitching staff. Speaking of which, have the Reds produced a competent starting pitcher from their farm system in the past five years? Ten years? I'm not counting Brandon Claussen because he was already a prospect when they acquired him for Aaron F***ing Boone. Ditto for Aaron Harang from Oakland. If Reds fans want to know why their team sucks, it's because they can't produce starters from the minors, despite the fact that they draft high every year. As a result, they have to overpay for whiplash candidates like Eric Milton. That said, how are the Reds not electing to trade some of their glut of offense for competent pitching?

3. I worry for the Braves' bullpen. Because of the injuries to the starting staff, they are going with a four-man rotation right now. Of those pitchers, Jorge Sosa can't throw more than five innings because he's just come from the bullpen, Kyle Davies can't last into the later innings because opposing teams are figuring him out, and Horacio Ramirez can't go deep because his weak three true outcome (HR/K/BB)numbers have finally caught up with him. John Smoltz is the only reliable starter right now. If his elbow starts to act up, then we might as well light the 2005 team on fire and throw the ashes into the Ganges. On the other hand, if Hampton, Thomson, and Hudson get healthy, they'll come back to a deeper team with a better offense, plus they won't have too many innings on their odometer.

3a. Speaking of my favorite Braves this year, how about a shout-out for Jorge Sosa. If the past week ends up being a turning point or simply a stage that the Braves survived en route to later success, Sosa's two good starts (and the bullpen's shut-out work behind him) will be a forgotten reason why. Sosa has terrific stuff that again makes me wonder why he wasn't used more as a reliever earlier in the year. Plus, he has an Alfonseca-like flourish after strikeouts that makes me smile and miss EL PULPO!!!

4. On the Braves' stat sheet for 2005, three pitchers have ERAs over six:

Tom Martin - CUT!!!
Roman Colon - SENT DOWN!!!
Dan Kolb - ???

5. Please tell me you saw Adam Dunn's home run off of Smoltz on Thursday night. Wow. Moon shot doesn't do it justice; Probe to Pluto might be more apt. And the best part about it was that Dunn and Smoltz were yukking it up at first base later in the game after Smoltz singled. I get the sense that Smoltz likes to challenge great hitters when he has a lead and isn't miffed when they hit him. He gave up a cannon shot to Barry Bonds in the 2002 NLDS when pitching with a three-run lead and no one on base. Alternatively, Smoltz might be pulling a Maddux and setting Dunn up for an at-bat later this year. (Thankfully, the Braves see the Reds seven more times.)


peacedog said...

The fact that Johnson's OB% is right at .350, on top of a .206 batting average, is remarkable. He had some decent walk numbers in the minors over his career - and they were fantastic at Richmond this year (his 12 ML walks would put him at 45+ for the season, to cheat and add linearly). I think this is a kid with 80+ walk potential, though it may be a year or two before we see it consistently. I really like him, and I hope we stick through any further headaches, because I see a regular developing here. I agree with you - I like the stance, I like the way he works counts.

Betemit continues to swing a hot bat but that 12/8 BB/K is now 13/18. It's hard for me not to be leery. Still, when he hits its going somewhere. It could be that he's finally maturing as a hitter (what I believe KJ was doing this year at Richmond pre-callup).

You know, if he oculd take walks, Langerhans would be suited to leadoff. I should scope his career minor league numbers.

I will try to dig up numbers on 1st round pick Joey Devine. Several college guys made the majors their first year out in the last two years. Like Oakland's Houston Street. It will be interesting to watch unfold.

I think Chuck James picthed an inning in releif recently - Braves eyeing him for a bullpen roll? He's a career starter with *fantastic* minor league numbers. Very high Ks, very low walks. Good era. He tops out at 91-92 I think. I don't know muich about movement/location, but looking at the numbers I'd have to guess they're pretty good.

Michael said...

Johnson's recent power binge is important because pitchers would be less likely to continue being so careful with him if they sensed that he couldn't do much damage to pitches in the strike zone. On the other hand, maybe pitchers were respoding that way and that was the cause for his great week. If so, then that's an encouraging sign.

I'm at a loss to explain Betemit. Maybe the light finally clicked on for him. He certainly showed the talent in the lower minors, but I can't explain how he went from unable to hit in AAA to hitting major league pitching. He's got the inside track on the shortstop position next year.

Was Devine as dominant in college as Huston Street? I remember seeing Street closing in the CWS and thinking that he looked like a can't miss prospect.

peacedog said...

I never saw Devine (though I did Street and thought he was pretty awesome as well). His numbers, both this year and career, are pretty impressive.

He thorws between 3/4 and sidearm. That caused me to think that perhaps he's got an uphill battle, but then I read is fastball topped out at 96. So perhaps he can bring it. Here's the stats:

4-3 2.45 24 11 40 36 6 64

IIRC he finished the year in the mid to high 40s in innings and had mid 70s Ks. The 1.02ish WHIP is outstanding, and the K rate is through the roof (14 K/9!). It's college stats, but Baseball America did say he was as majors ready as anyone in the draft. The fact that he is a reliver dropped him down the board - they just don't go very high (and justifyable so).

I *think* he is slated to start at High A (it may have been AA but I doubt it; he won't start lower I am confident). He's probably in an extended spring training type deal right now.

Agreed on KJ's power. If you're worried a guy can hit one of your pitches far, it changes how you pitch (if it's more than one. . .). Good news is also that he allegedly can handle lefties. I love the kid.

Agreed also on Betemit having the inside track for SS. As good as Furcal's Defense has been, he's going to have to step it up if he wants to resign. I think he'll overprice himself ultimately, no matter how he peforms, and make it a moot decision.