Tuesday, April 06, 2010

He's Here

Boom goes the dynamite. I watched that clip on my DVR about eight times last night. By the end, I was picking out fans in the crowd and watching their reactions. My favorite was a guy in right field in a white t-shirt and khakis who was jumping up and down with his arms extended in the air like he had just won a Showcase Showdown. Atlanta fans have been waiting for someone like Heyward ever since the air went out of the Vick balloon (and we can debate when that happened) and he certainly didn't disappoint.

[Side note: I wish that I could say that the Hawks had produced a star to fill the space left by Vick, but they haven't. The team is very good, but Joe Johnson doesn't have quite the charisma to be a star and Josh Smith doesn't quite score enough points to be a superstar. The Hawks' disappointing attendance this year, which is not in line with the team's performance, can be partly laid at the feet of the fact that the team doesn't have one big star, especially in a sport where teams are defined by individuals.]

Other thoughts on the game:

1. Derek Lowe, yeesh. A pitcher can get away with a low strikeout rate if he keeps the ball in the park and doesn't walk opponents. Lowe gave up two homers yesterday and had three walks. It's only one start, but it's not encouraging. I'll be interested to see how the Braves treat him if his performances remain poor. On the one hand, the Braves paying him to be an ace. It's hard to bench a guy with that contract for Kris Medlin. On the other hand, a team with playoff aspirations can't trot out a guy to get rocked every five days.

2. After an offseason in which the mainstream media really picked up on the trend towards valuing defense, the Braves' first inning was a great illustration. Before Heyward put us all on the back of his chariot and took us to HappyLand, the Braves had scored three runs without hitting a ball hard. A better defensive team would have turned one or more of the flares hit by Prado, Chipper, and McCann into outs, not to mention the grounder up the middle by Yunel that preceded Heyward's bomb. Better defense would have been the difference between no runs and six. Also, in watching the inning, I was reminded of the fact that it is hard to evaluate defense. When I'm watching a game on TV, I see a flare hit to the outfield and I see the centerfielder almost get there. I don't see his positioning or the jump he got on the ball, and it's hard to evaluate how his speed or lack thereof was the difference between making the play and letting the ball fall in. Thus, I became even more appreciative of the defensive stats that can tell me what my brain struggles to perceive. I liked Bill Simmons's line about Ultimate Zone Rating:

I'm one of those "I don't care how you killed the cow; just serve me a great steak" guys. If the results are logical and easy to understand, I'm pouring some A1 sauce on that formula and eating it.

Speaking of Simmons, I quite enjoyed his podcasts with Jonah Keri and Keith Law over the weekend. It's interesting to see him step out of the dark on the usefulness of advanced baseball stats. It's also nice listening to him when he's not spending all of his time on the Red Sox and the Yankees. I'm generally excited about baseball this year, partially because of Heyward and partially because it's new and shiny.


Ryno said...

[i]Atlanta fans have been waiting for someone like Heyward ever since the air went out of the Vick balloon [/i]

They got it two years ago when Matt Ryan was Rookie of the Year and lead the Falcons to the Playoffs.

geewhzjay said...

I have to say that I was impressed by the Braves yesterday. Its only the first game so let's try and keep things in perspective. Heyward is obviously a very special young player, key word being young. I hope that he doesn't become overwhelmed by the pressure that is being placed on him by the expectations of an organization/city.
That being said, Atlanta should have a very good season. From what I saw yesterday, I don't think offensive production will be their achilles heel. We'll have to see how everything plays out.