Tagged: Brian McCann

American Dominance

The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.

Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:

  • 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average:  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
    • Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
  • 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
  • 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
    • Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
  • 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.

Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.  

HOUSTON ASTROS AT OAKLAND ATHLETICS MLB
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)

Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.

Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.

DJ

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Hit Parade

Single season records can be reached without the need for a career filled with success. Players only need to have a single magical season to reach these marks. Think Roger Maris in 1961 or even a career year like Mark Fidrych in 1976. The toughest record to beat now may be the single season hits record. Ichiro Suzuki collected 262 hits in 2004, finally topping George Sisler’s single season record of 257 hits that had stood since 1920. There have been 530 individual efforts where a player collected at least 200 hits in a season. Many players have had multiple 200 hit seasons, with Ichiro and Pete Rose holding the record with ten 200 hit seasons.

200 hits in a single season is not a rare accomplishment. We’ve seen, over the last several seasons, a handful of players collecting 200 hits. However, the Houston Astros have the talent to potentially do something no team has ever done by having four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season. Only three times in Major League history has a team had three teammates collect 200 hits in the same season, but never a fourth. The 1963 St. Louis Cardinals, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, and the 1991 Texas Rangers had three teammates collect 200 hits. Teammates who are able to consistently hit and get on base does not necessarily translate to success. The 1963 Cardinals finished 2nd in the National League, 6 games behind the Dodgers for the Pennant. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. The 1991 Rangers finished 3rd in the American League West, 10 games behind the Twins. Success in baseball is a team effort. Simply having a third or more of your lineup hitting all season does not mean you can be lackluster elsewhere.

Altuve
Jose Altuve is Houston’s best hitter. 200 hits a season is close to automatic. (Elaine Thompson, STF)

The 2017 Houston Astros could be the first team to have four teammates collect 200 hits in the same season thanks to the ABC’S. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer. Jose Altuve is a hitting machine, for whom not collecting 200 hits in a season would make it a down year. Altuve has collected at least 200 hits in three out of five full seasons in the Majors. Bregman has hit at every level in college and in the minors and should continue to develop into an outstanding consistent bat in the Houston lineup. Bregman played in only 146 minor league games after being drafted by Houston out of LSU. Starting at A Ball, Bregman batted .259, High A .319, AA .297, and AAA .333. Bregman can hit and he is starting to settle in with the Astros. Correa is a do it all super star in the making. Entering his third full season in the Majors, Correa continues to improve his strikeout to walk rate. Correa is still learning to hit at the Major League level and his strikeout rate should continue to decline. George Springer is an everyday player who can reach 200 hits simply by cutting down on his strikeouts and focusing on hitting singles and doubles instead of swinging for the fences. In 2016, his first full healthy season in the Majors, Springer hit 29 doubles and 29 home runs with 88 walks and 178 strikeouts. If he can combine plate discipline to draw more walks and cutting down on his big swings to strike out less, perhaps down to 125 times a season, that may translate to 50 more balls in play each season. Springer collected 168 hits against those 178 strikeouts. 50 more balls in play could mean collecting 200 hits.

Bregman
Alex Bregman is still getting comfortable in the Majors, but he has shown from college through the minors and in Houstn that he can hit. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The ability to hit and get on base will become slightly easier as opposing teams may prefer to face Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and/or Springer than give up crushing scores to the big bats behind them in the lineup. Carlos Beltran, Evan Gattis, and Brian McCann can all launch a baseball over the fence with cautionary frequency. Every night at least two of the three power bats will be protecting Houston’s hit parade. Every night is a new nightmare for opposing pitchers. They’re faced with either a swift destruction from power or the drowning quicksand from a constant stream of singles here and doubles there.

Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has had George Springer leading off, setting the stage for Jose Altuve batting third and Carlos Correa batting fourth. Once the speed and contact have put the pressure on opposing pitchers Hinch has had Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and/or Evan Gattis batting fourth or fifth in nearly every game. Alex Bregman has most often worked to reset the stage by batting eighth, but he also has the second most at bats in the Astros lineup batting second or sixth. Bregman appears to be the utility batter for Houston as he can help the Astros turn the batting order over or he can fill in to help set the stage for Altuve, Correa, or the power of Beltran, McCann, or Gattis.

Correa
Is there anything Carlos Correa can’t do on the diamond? (Brace Hemmelgam/Getty Images)

There are three major factors that may hamper the quest for four single-season, 200-hit teammates for the 2017 Astros. First is the relative youth of Bregman, Correa, and Springer. Slumps and growing pains are often a matter of when, not if, especially for younger hitters. Every batter struggles at one point in their career in some way, past success does not guarantee future success. Second, injuries. The Major League season is a 162 game grind that breaks down even the strongest and toughest players in the world. The Astros are not immune to injuries and missing even a week or more could put 200 hits out of reach for a player. Third, Houston currently has an 8 game lead in the American League West over the Angels and the Rangers. Any sized lead can disappear over the next four months, but with each passing day the Astros make it a little more difficult to be caught. If the Astros run away with the West, A.J. Hinch could decide to rest his players down the stretch, meaning losing at bats and potential hits to rest them for the playoffs.

George Springer
George Springer can hit plenty of home runs, but his greatest value for the Astros might be getting on base ahead of Houston’s sluggers. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)

There are plenty of ifs peppered in the scenario of the Astros having four teammates collect 200 hits in 2017. The Astros’ core is young, the years of tanking have finally provided Houston the draft positioning to get the team they sought all along. A young, dynamic team that is built to win both now and in the future. The quartet of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, and Springer may never collect 200 hits in a season, but 2017 seems to be the first real opportunity for them to make a run at this particular landmark record. The hit parade in Houston is fun to watch and so far has resulted in plenty of wins for the Astros. The hits record would be nice, but the Astros are only concerned with winning their first World Series.

DJ

The Return

The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million.  This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018.  When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez.  The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.

Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup?  What about Alex Rodriguez?  Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond?  At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing.  He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.

Does he have any range? (www.sportsworldreport.com

Does he have any range? (www.sportsworldreport.com

At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley.  As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups.  However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela.  Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second.  I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up.  The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward.  Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively.  Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.

At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him.  I would vote to avoid the platoon.  When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success.  A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should.  Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster.  The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness.  As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez.  Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.

Is his speed completely gone? (www.chatsports.com)

Is his speed completely gone? (www.chatsports.com)

As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition.  Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees.  Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games.  Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH.  Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran.  Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH.  Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.

These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day.  At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller.  He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound.  He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season.  In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries.  This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field.  Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.

Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive.  He has not hit above .276 since 2009.  Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014.  During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season.  His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8.  Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative.  He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3.  Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.

Stating the obvious about Alex Rodriguez. (www.komonews.com)

Stating the obvious about Alex Rodriguez. (www.komonews.com)

Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball.  However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act.  He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game.  Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season.  Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game.  He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000.  He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron.  He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average.  He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career.  He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career.  All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.

Alex Rodriguez has served his time.  Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition.  Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field.  Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become.  These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies.  Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history.  Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day.  Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?

The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not.  There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history.  Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams?  Statistically yes.  On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat.  No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.

Alex Rodriguez will most likely live on the bench this season. (www.sportingnews.com)

Alex Rodriguez will most likely live on the bench this season. (www.sportingnews.com)

Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class?  Not even close.  He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim.  You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do.  He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003.  While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons.  These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career.  In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes.  The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch.  While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season.  Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:

“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”

The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down.  Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs.  Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy.  Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.

It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out.  He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees.  He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over.  Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up.  Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more.  What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez.  There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game.  He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.

D

The Four Corners of Frank Wren’s Braves

The Playoffs began yesterday for ten teams, but for the other 20 teams today is the first day of the off-season.  It is time for some teams to make changes, while others stay the course.  The Astros, Rangers, Twins, and Diamondbacks have said good-bye to their managers.  The Diamondbacks and Braves have fired their General Managers.  Firing season has begun.  One firing in particular stands out; the firing of Braves General Manager Frank Wren.

Wren’s dismissal did not come as a surprise to anyone considering his track record.  Wren took over as GM with John Schuerholz promoted to Team President in October 2007.  Following in the steps of a legendary figure is never easy, but this was Wren’s task.  During Wren’s tenure as GM for the Braves the team compiled a 604-523 record, a .535 winning percentage.  The Braves won the National League East in 2013 and were Wild Card teams twice, in 2010 and 2012.  The team never advanced beyond the Divisional Series in the play offs.  The lack of post season success however was not Wren’s undoing.  Rather his track record with signing or trading for free agents.  The four major moves during Wren’s reign were, all individually to say the least, disappointing.  Collectively they were disastrous, and eventually cost him his job.

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

Frank Wren never made it to the promised land. (http://losthatsportsblog.com/)

On the mound, Wren signed Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to a three year, $23 million contract before the 2009 season.  During Kawakami’s two seasons in Atlanta he posted the following line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
8-22 243.2 251 130 117 25 89 164 1.395 4.32

Kawakami spent his final season of his contract in the minors pitching in Rookie ball, for the Gulf Coast League Braves, and in AA, for the Mississippi Braves.  Kawakami never lived up the expectations Wren set after signing him from the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.  After his contract ended, Kawakami returned to Japan and to the Chunichi Dragons.

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Kenshin Kawakawi never found success in Atlanta. (nj.com)

Wren also signed Derek Lowe to a four year, $60 million contract prior to the 2009 season.  Lowe lasted three seasons in Atlanta and posted this uninspiring line:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
40-39 575.1 648 307 292 48 194 384 1.463 4.57

After the third year of the contract, Lowe was traded to the Cleveland Indians with cash for minor leaguer Chris Jones, who is currently pitching at AAA Norfolk Tides in the Baltimore Orioles system.  While a serviceable starter in Atlanta, Lowe was unable to sustain the success he had had with the Red Sox and the Dodgers.  Lowe had become an overpriced luxury the Braves could not afford.  The Braves were willing to pay for Lowe to leave and took Jones to get something as a return on their investment in Lowe.

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Derek Lowe was not worth the money. (nj.com)

Starting in the 2010 offseason Wren attempted to bolster the Braves offense through trade and signings.  Wren pulled off a trade with the Florida Marlins which sent Mike Dunn and Omar Infante to Florida in exchange for Second Baseman Dan Uggla.  Uggla and the Braves then agreed to a five year, $62 million contract.  The trade and contract were a disaster.  Uggla spent three and a half seasons with the Braves, seeing his production and playing time dwindled to almost nothing before he was released.  He was able to post a line of:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
499 247 356 64 79 225 7 243 535 .209 .317 .391 .708

One of the few bright spots during his tenure with the Braves was his 33 game hitting streak in 2011.  Despite the hitting streak Uggla hit .233, which would be his highest batting average as a Brave.  His play at second was not much better; he posted a Defensive WAR of -2.1 with the Braves.  In 2014, the Braves released Uggla and were willing to pay the remainder of the contract, which was at least $ 15 million.  Uggla was reducing the Braves to a 24 man roster, and had to be moved if the Braves were to compete on any level, which ended one of the worst experiences in Braves history.

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

OH NO UGGLA!!! (http://rotoprofessor.com/)

In November 2012, B.J. Upton landed in Atlanta as a free agent after eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays.  Upton signed a five year, $75.25 million contract.  The Braves made a major splash with the signing, but they had almost immediate buyer’s remorse.  Upton is closing out the second year of his contract and has amassed this line:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
267 97 180 33 21 61 32 101 324 .198 .279 .314 .593

Upton has been better on defense than Uggla, but it has not been enough to counteract his offensive struggles.  Upton has a Definsive WAR of -0.4 with the Braves.  As improbable as it might seem, Braves fans are already beginning to wish Dan Uggla would come back in place of Upton.  The rumor mill has already begun about how Atlanta can get out of the contract without having to pay out all the remaining money of the contract.  It does not look promising for Upton to finish the contract as a member of the Braves.

BJ Upton just can't get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

BJ Upton just can’t get it together in Atlanta. (bit.ly)

Frank Wren gave seven years and $83 million to Kawakami and Lowe.  In return, during five seasons the Braves received:

W-L INNINGS H R ER HR BB SO WHIP ERA
48-21 819 899 437 409 73 283 548 1.443 4.49

Neither pitcher lasted the full length of their contract with the Atlanta Braves.  Wren also gave ten years and $134.25 million to Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton.  In return, the Braves received:

G R H 2B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
766 344 536 97 100 286 39 344 859 .205 .303 .364 .667

In five and a half combined seasons, Uggla and Upton have not produced a single season worthy of an average Major League player.  Kawakami and Lowe were serviceable on the mound but not respectable based upon their salary and expectations.  Kawakami finished his Braves career in the minors, Lowe was traded away with cash for a minor leaguer who at the time was in High A ball, and Dan Uggla was released because the Braves could not find another team to take him nor were they willing to take away playing time from their minor leaguers. Three of the four major acquisitions made by Frank Wren did not finish their contracts as a member of the Atlanta Braves.  The fourth, B.J Upton, seems destined to be the worst signing of the bunch, and at the present it does not seem too difficult to imagine a situation where the Braves get rid of him either through trade, demotion, or release.

Ultimately Frank Wren sealed his own fate through his inability to successfully acquire players who could remotely live up to their large contracts.  While not entirely his fault, Wren was highly involved in altering how the Braves play on the field.  He sought out the pricey talent from other teams.  The Braves have been highly successful in developing talent through the draft or through trades for minor leaguers or young players.  The Braves continue to have excellent pitching; it is the offense which is lacking.  While Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz were all Hall of Fame caliper players, the offense was balanced.  Atlanta had the power from Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, and Brian McCann.  The team also had the players who could get on base ahead of these power hitters, like Otis Nixon, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke, and Marquis Grissom.  The Braves forgot how to play same ball.

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren's moves.(www.mbird.com)

Braves fans were left scratching their heads after many of Frank Wren’s moves.(www.mbird.com)

Times change, but in baseball generally the winning formula stays the same.  Good pitching, which the Braves generally had during Wren’s tenure despite the signing of Kawakami and Lowe, and a balanced offense, which seemed to be forgotten.  Atlanta has plenty of offense to be competitive; however with a lineup full of high strikeout batters who are swinging for the fences, the difference between success and failure becomes razor thin.  Success in baseball is about scoring runs and preventing runs.  Atlanta forgot what brought them success and appeared to value highlight reel worthy home runs more than fielding a balanced team which could compete on a yearly basis.

The Braves lost their way and fell in love with both the long ball and with making a splash with high profile free agent signings or big trades.  The long term ramifications for these ill-advised signings by Frank Wren are still being felt.  B.J. Upton needs to return to hitting .240 before fans can at least say the Uggla trade was worse than the Upton signing.  The situation in Atlanta with Derek Lowe was not good.  A mediocre to serviceable pitcher at best, being paid based upon past performance and hopes.  The situation with Kawakami was sad.  He seemingly never got the run support from the Braves offense, before he began to struggle, and eventually disappeared into the minors for his final season of baseball in America.  The situation with Dan Uggla was ugly.  A guy who worked hard but most likely should have never made it beyond AA except for the Marlins thrusting him to the Majors and then the Braves believing his power was worth the lack of hitting ability.  Uggla eventually got into a standoff with Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the Front Office as he saw his playing time dwindle to nothing.  The Uggla situation became so bad the Braves, who do not have a big market payroll, were willing to pay Uggla at least $15 million to leave.

The beginning of Frank Wren's last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The beginning of Frank Wren’s last mistake. (http://www.gazettenet.com/)

The situation with B.J. Upton looks like it could be worse than it ever was with Uggla.  Less than two years into his contract the Braves sought to trade him to the Chicago Cubs for Edwin Jackson at this year’s trading deadline.  Jackson has a worse career ERA and WHIP than Kawakami and Lowe during their time with Atlanta, and is still owed $24 million through the 2016 season.  The trade however was rejected by the Cubs.  Try as they might Atlanta will have a tough time moving Upton through a combination of poor play and over $45 million due to him during the final three seasons of this contract.  Do not be surprised if the Braves have to eat more money, this time from B.J. Upton to get out from under the last of Frank Wren’s disastrous major moves.

Frank Wren understands baseball.  You do not become the General Manager of two teams by accident.  Nor do you last seven years in a place which is used to winning and expect to win.  What went wrong for Wren is not the day to day operations of the Braves, rather it was his attempt to go out and sign priced talented players.  The signing of Kawakami, Lowe, Uggla (after trading for him), and Upton have not helped the Braves to continue winning.  It is fair to argue these signings actually hurt the team both based on their on-field performance and the money they tied up, which could not be used to go out and sign other players.  These four moves eventually caught up with Frank Wren and cost him his job.  The Braves should return to the formula which led them to over a decade of success, while integrating advances in scouting and sabermetrics to get the best out of their players and to fully understand the capabilities of the players they are looking to add to their roster.

The Braves in some ways lost their way when they fell in love with the home run and over looked the high number of strikeouts they deemed acceptable by their lineup.  The men who led the way to the Braves success, John Scherholtz and Bobby Cox, have been tasked with leading the Braves back to their winning ways and steady baseball.  Along with John Hart, Scherholtz and Cox are not trying to rediscover “The Braves Way”; rather they should aim to return to playing sound baseball.  The Frank Wren tenure is over.  B.J. Upton has some major work to do if he wants to avoid being one of the worst, if not the worst, free agents signings by the Braves ever.  Time with tell with B.J. Upton.  It is time for the Braves to return to what they know and for a long time did so well, winning through great pitching and a balanced offense, while on a budget.

D

The Yankees Are At It Again

The New York Yankees are at it again. Instead of building their team up through the draft, through trades involving minor leaguers or non-super star major league players, along with the occasional signing of a top tier player, they are just buying high priced talent. The  New York Yankees are trying to buy their 28th World Series title and it is ruining baseball. They tried to blind us with a smoke screen that they were going to get below the luxury tax limit of $189 million. We did not fall for it because the Yankees never change. Or have they?

The New York Yankees were able to contain themselves and allowed the Seattle Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million contract. Instead of maintaining their status quo with an excellent second baseman while not addressing the other holes they have on their roster. They were able to address their need at catcher, starting pitching, and in the outfield. Yes they will take a step back at second base, but overall the team will be improved, which is necessary to stay competitive in the American League East.

Brian Cashman signed Brian McCann 5 year, $85 million. While he will be an improvement at catcher, I unfortunately do not believe McCann is a long term solution at catcher. He has already caught 8820 1/3 inning in his nine year career. He should eventually transition to be a full time DH or first baseman. Even this transition will allow the Yankees to address another need they will have once Mark Teixeira’s contract ends.

McCann won't back down from a challenge.

McCann won’t back down from a challenge.

The Yankees made Carlos Beltran’s dream come true by signing him to a 3 year $45 million contract. He will be a major upgrade in the outfield for the Bronx Bombers and in their lineup. However, the major concerns regarding Beltran is where time will finally catch up to him. Every time baseball is ready to write him off he comes roaring back, eventually he will not be able to come back at the level he and the Yankees expect. Beltran’s injury history should also make coming back from the injuries that occur throughout the season more and more difficult as the contract goes on. Beltran’s contract could go either way; he could be a steal for the Yankees or his contract could be a short term disaster.

He could miss it by that much.

He could miss it by that much.

Speed never goes into a slump, however those legs can get hurt. The Yankees are hoping Jacoby Ellsbury and his 7 year, $153 million contract rack up stolen bases and not doctors visits. An outfield of Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro could be a deadly trio if it was five years ago. Soriano has steadily dropped at the plate and hit fielding abilities have never spectacular. Ichiro is on the back half of his legendary career, though I would still ant him on my team even though he will be 40 this coming year. Ellsbury can chase down balls that Soriano and Ichiro can no longer reach and can turn a single into a double or more, plus steal at least 50 bases when he is healthy. Ellsbury is a tremendous upgrade in the outfield, but if he is hampered by leg injuries his greatest weapon and most valuable asset could be compromised.

FASTER!!! But don't hurt yourself.

FASTER!!! But don’t hurt yourself.

Masahiro Tanaka and I have something in common. Neither of us has played a single inning in Major League Baseball. However Tanaka has 7 years, $155 million to prove he has more potential between the base lines than I do. Tanaka will face the same pressures that every highly touted rookie faces, can he do it against the best players in the world. The Nippon Professional Baseball is arguable the second best baseball league in the world, even better than AAA in the United States or any domestic league in the Caribbean.  Despite dominating in Japan, Tanaka still has doubters concerning his abilities on the mound. Tanaka has plenty to prove and if he can successfully transition to the Bronx the Yankees will have potentially dominate pitchers one through three in their rotation. They can mix and match to get by with a struggling back end of the rotation. However if Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and/ or Hiroki Kuroda struggle the bullpen could be exhausted before the All Star Break and the Bronx faithful could be in for a long summer.

How good can he really become?

How good can he really become?

The Yankees are back to being the Yankees, so of. They went out and paid premium players above premium prices to fill in the holes on their roster. They avoided going after the single biggest catch, Robinson Cano, so they could build a team which could and should at minimum remain in the playoff picture until September. The Yankees are aging and without much exceptional talent in their farm system,  when compared to their expectations, the Yankees are pushed into paying top dollar for free agents. The Bronx is a destination but eventually the Yankees must begin developing their own talent and at cheaper prices. Signing the best in the game works, but eventually those players age and you are left with a team that cannot spend its way out of aging. The Yankees must begin a youth movement, and that push needs to begin now in earnest both in the Bronx and in their minor league system.

D

Circling the Bases- The Week of November 17th

The week that was saw the off season moves which involved bigger named players begin to heat up. Every team is working to fill the holes that prevented them from winning the World Series in 2013. Baseball is an inexact science, thus what are seen as smart moves can become disasters, and unnoticed moves can make a General Manager into a genius.

Here are my top three moves of the week:

The Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade caught many people by surprise, including me. Aside from moving the giant contract Fielder signed in early 2012 for 9 years and $214 million, the Detroit Tigers improved their team. Removing Fielder from the team opens up First base again for Miguel Cabrera. This should keep the best hitter in the game healthier over the course of the season as he is only sharing DH at bats with Victor Martinez, instead of with Martinez and Fielder. Keeping Cabrera healthy must be Detroit’s top priority. The addition of Kinsler means the Tigers have replaced free agent Second baseman Omar Infante, and upgraded the position. Also do not forget all the more saved by not having to pay Fielder, even with the $30 million sent to Texas the Tigers will save roughly $70 million. They can use that money to address Third base and Matt Scherzer. The Rangers dramatically improve their roster with the addition of Prince Fielder. They now have a legitimate First baseman who can hit for major power in the Texas heat which carries baseballs to the Oklahoma border. Also Jurickson Profar will get the chance to play every day at Second. Fielder has been durable to this point in his career, what will the back half of his contract look like on the field? How will his 275 lbs body hold up to the Texas heat through the dog days of summer? While I think this is a good trade for both teams who are seeking to get over the hump and win a World Series, I think Detroit will be the biggest winner in this trade.

prince-fielders-belly-flop-slide-led-to-some-hilarious-gifs

Free Agent Catcher Brian McCann signed a 5 year $85 million deal with the New York Yankees. The Yankees over paid, in my opinion, for McCann, however signing him is still a smart move. Clearly the platoon attempt by the Yankees in 2013 was unsuccessful, thus the need for a Catcher who can be an asset to the pitching staff and one who can be an offensive threat; both of which McCann will do. The deal solidifies the Yankees at Catcher until Gary Sanchez is ready for the Major League, probably around 2015. At that point McCann can transition to First base and take over for Mark Teixeira, who will become a free agent after the 2016 season. Whether he is Catching, playing First, or DHing McCann will add some pop to the Yankee line up and should feast with the short porch in Right at Yankee Stadium.

General Manager Brian Sabean will have the San Francisco Giants thinking of another World Series parade or they will be watching from home as the play offs begin. Sabean has taken two major gambles with his pitching staff this off season with the signing of Tim Lincecum and now Tim Hudson. Lincecum got a 2 year $35 million deal and now Hudson has signed a 2 year $23 million deal. The Giants are betting that both pitchers are able to find the stuff that has made them among the top pitchers in the past. Lincecum’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster in recent years, whereas Hudson is coming off a horrific injury to his leg. One of these contract could have been risky but two I the same off season has the Giants on the edge of a deep playoff run and looking up at the Dodgers for at least the next two seasons, if not beyond. San Francisco is a class organization and Tim Hudson is among the classiest players in all of baseball, so I wish them the best.

D