Monday, April 06, 2009

Belated Preseason Thoughts on the Local Baseball Collective

1. Although the writers at SI do not appear interested in the Braves, the statheads at the Baseball Prospectus are quite sanguine on the team's prospects. Joe Sheehan tabs the Braves as the 5th best team in baseball($), while the site's PECOTA forecasting system predicts 86 wins and in a Wild Card dog fight with the Phillies and D-Backs($). The strength of the team is projected to be the pitching and defense, which would be a major change from years past. Sheehan projects the Braves to allow the second-fewest runs in the NL; PECOTA projects the Braves to finish fifth in that department. The stat world seems very happy with the Braves' changes to the pitching rotation in the offseason and the defense projects out well, especially with Jordan Schafer playing a full year in centerfield. I'd also be willing to be that PECOTA would give the Braves the extra 2-3 wins they need to get into the playoffs if it gave 20 starts to Tommy Hanson instead of Tom Glavine. (And yes, I say that knowing that Hanson did not look great on Saturday.) The plan with Hanson is probably to let him cool his jets in AAA for two months and then bring him up mid-season so he doesn't accumulate too many innings this season. Between Hanson coming onto the scene in the second half of the year and a possible return of Tim Hudson in August, the Braves could upgrade the roster in the second half without making a single trade or signing. But that shouldn't stop us from speculating wildly...

Assuming that the Braves find themselves in contention in June and July, what are the odds that they get involved in the inevitable Miguel Cabrera sweepstakes? On the one hand, the experience of trading away significant talent for a year of Mark Teixeira indicates that the team shouldn't pay the midseason ransom prices for another big-time hitter. Cabrera is very expensive, which means that attendance would have to be very good to justify that acquisition. The Andruw Jones experience also should concern the Braves about taking on a 26-year old who is in the second year of an eight-year deal and who doesn't exactly have a legendary commitment to fitness. On the other hand, if the pitching and defense plays out as we suspect and the Braves are getting substandard performance in left field, Cabrera would be the difference between not making the playoffs and potentially making the World Series. Come to think of it, I just remembered that Garret Anderson is keeping the spot warm for Jason Heyward, so forget that I ever mentioned the possibility of bringing Cabrera to Atlanta. Miggy seems ticketed for the Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox, assuming that those teams have the prospects to make the deal worthwhile. Speaking of which, Sheehan claims that parity has arrived in baseball:

We've entered an era not of NFL-style randomness, but of significant parity within the game in which the structure of the league allows everyone an opportunity to build successfully and sustain that success, reaping the benefits both on and off the field. It's not a perfect league, but it is a strong one.

and then Sheehan picks the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers as the four best teams in baseball. I'm very suspicious of the claim that everyone has an opportunity to sustain success. We'll see if the Rays hold onto the talent they've assembled or if the bigger market teams pick off their players, one by one.

2. This has been the preseason of defense. Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine both devoted feature-length articles to the importance of defense, making two significant points: (1) the Rays went from worst to first by improving their defense significantly, thus making their young pitchers better; and (2) the statistical revolution has figured out how to measure defense. Those of us who remember the '91 Braves recall the young pitching staff suddenly flowering with the additions of Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, and Deion Sanders. That said, the Braves succeeded because they were able to add quality defensive players to an outstanding young nucleus of Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, and David Justice. Likewise, the Rays amassed young talent and then added a couple defensive pieces to make the whole thing work. Defensive upgrades seem to be the last piece of the puzzle of building a winner; they are not the foundation. I see a team like the Tigers assembling a left side of Brandon Inge (career OPS+ of 84) and Adam Everett (career OPS+ of 69) and I see a bad imitation.

As for the Braves' defense, the team is above-average at every position save for third base and left field. Third base I can live with because the resident there can hit the daylights out of the ball. Left field is going to be a trouble spot all year. I'm intrigued by the idea of putting Gregor Blanco in left because of his defensive abilities and his better OBP.

3. In 2008, the Braves got 27 homers out of the outfield. Two innings into the 2009 season, they already had two. And all I have to say about the bomb that Jordan Schafer hit is this: holy crap!

4. Here is Brett Myers on his performance last night:

I made three mistakes and they didn't miss them. Sometimes they pop those up. Not in this case. Give them credit.

The three mistakes that Myers is referencing are presumably the three homers that he allowed to McCann, Francoeur, and Schafer. Presumably, this means that the fastball down the middle that Yunel Escobar drove 400 feet off the wall in center was not a mistake. Ah, the power of self-delusion.


scott said...

with regard to SI, i just wanted to throw out there that Jon Heyman referred to 6'3" 235LB Brian McCann as "diminutive" in his article today.

Anonymous said...

Heyman must be 6'8"...

Diminutive? McCann? Wow.