Friday, July 1, 2011

Brian McCann, Meet Your Prime

It's often said a player hits his prime between ages 26-32. There are always cases of early success or late revivals, but in the end, you tend to see the best years for players falling into that age category. And for hitters, there is a good reason. Power develops at its peak in these years.

A half season is a long way from determining anything, but so far, Brian McCann seems to be entering these years at age 27.

McCann has already posted a 3.2 fWAR, on pace to shatter his previous marks and good for 11th in the National League. That's 11th overall, not for catchers. He is 0.6 wins above the second-best mark for catchers in MLB by Alex Avila and 0.8 wins above the second-best in the National League by Miguel Montero. This while accumulating the second-most games played and most plate appearances by a strict catcher (Carlos Santana plays 1B, as well), meaning more innings logged behind the plate.

McCann's power has returned to 2008 levels, slugging .527 and posting an Isolated Power of .212. Both of these marks are second-best to Avila in MLB, but he leads all catchers in home runs at 14.

However, the big value is coming from his on-base numbers. His .388 OBP matches his career-high set during his rookie campaign in 2006, and his .390 wOBA is second to that year on his career-bests. The big number is a 150 wRC+, which is 13th in all of baseball.

This while posting a second straight season of 10+ BB%. His 10.7% is a little less than the 13.1% last season, but he's maintaining an excellent walk rate while adding more power to last season's totals. This way of combining both and putting it all together is a sign of reaching maturity as a hitter, and McCann seems to be entering that stage. He said it himself during a recent post-game interview when he said he's hitting at a level only reached one other time during his career.

When McCann was first coming up, we all knew what the Braves had. This was no secret among the Braves community, yet it seemed to be a secret held to the Braves community. Even now, McCann's face isn't plastered on video game ads or billboards, and he is still considered underrated by those who don't study baseball. Whether that changes as McCann hits through his prime years is not certain, but as long as he continues to hit like this, I don't think anybody really cares.

I've held the belief for a couple years that McCann is every bit as good as Joe Mauer, and while I hate to pick on the injured, McCann has certainly blown by Mauer this season. The thing is, I would put good money on McCann besting Mauer during their prime years regardless of injuries, anyway.

Don't take for granted what you're watching on a daily basis with McCann. You're watching a potential Hall of Famer at work, and that's something to remember.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jonny Venters And Reliever Usage

Jonny Venters appeared in his 16th game for the month of June. That's out of 26 games. He has appeared in 46 games and pitched 51 innings. The Braves have played 82 games.

While Fredi Gonzalez has limited Venters' three-day outings (three appearances in three days) to only two so far this season, this doesn't hide the fact that Venters is getting almost no rest. When Venters pitches on consecutive days, whether it's two or three days in a row, he averages a little over one full day of rest. He has pitched on consecutive days 15 times. That means when he pitches two days in a row, more often than not he's back out there after one day of rest, and sometimes he is again pitching on consecutive days, so he ends up throwing four out of five days.

This type of usage has been common for Venters this season, and it's unacceptable for him to have this many innings pitched this early in the season. It's understandable to want arguably the best reliever in baseball on the mound as much as possible, but you have to protect your talent, and Fredi has done nothing to protect this talent.

But perhaps even worse than Venters' amount of usage is how he's being used. Peter at Capitol Avenue Club wrote on this yesterday:

"This is what happens when you manage straight out of the Tony LaRussa handbook. You end up burning your relief aces when you don’t need them and when you actually do they’re unavailable, either because that’s not the (illogically defined) role you’ve assigned them or because they’re worn out from protecting almost already assured victories. Venters is probably unavailable all weekend because he’s pitched six times in the last eight days, four of the appearances coming in spots with leverage indexes under one and three of them being legitimate mop-up situations (pLI’s of 0.53, 0.27, 0.17)."

Venters came in to Wednesday's game having pitched in eight of the past 13 games, including three of the past four. The Braves had a four-run lead against one of the worst offenses in baseball in one of the biggest pitcher's parks in baseball. But Fredi's reason for using Venters is because it was 5-1 instead of 6-1.

I cannot grasp this way of thinking. It makes no sense to me. All I know is, if Fredi continues to think this way about his using of Venters, he will run the guy into the ground and the Braves will either have him at 30% for the stretch run or not at all.

Venters has appeared in 14 games in which the player Leverage Index was below 1. He has appeared in nine games in which the index was between 1 and 1.5. He has appeared in 23 games in which the index was above 1.5. So overall, he's being placed in high leverage situations more often than not, mainly because he isn't relegated to the closer's role like Craig Kimbrel.

The problem, as Peter pointed out, is that Fredi is getting greedy with how Venters is being used. Four of his past six outings have had a pLI below 1, including a 0.17 and 0.27. With as many innings as Venters is seeing, you would think a manager would be able to notice he's being used in unnecessary situations. Unfortunately, it takes a two-run home run for Fredi to notice. This is the type of manager the Braves have.

I often watch Braves games and wonder what Frank Wren and John Schuerholz are thinking as Fredi manages.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jordan Schafer And The Leadoff Spot

Speed blinds people. It also strikes them dumb.

Example A is Jordan Schafer. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out Schafer's numbers don't belong at the top of a Major League lineup. Before Sunday, he had a line of .221/.296/.310 with a .277 wOBA and 72 wRC+. After Sunday, despite the RBI double, his OBP dropped to .295.

He has 18 strikeouts this month, and he went on a string of six straight games with at least one strikeout at one point, but that's not the problem here. Plus, I don't care about strikeouts, anyway. The problem is he doesn't get on base. He has three walks in his last 15 starts and five this month. He had 14 in 209 Triple-A plate appearances in 2010. Schafer did walk before last year, but he hasn't shown it since his injury.

Whether this is a trend or just a fluke as he continues to "re-invent" himself as a leadoff hitter, I don't know. But Schafer doesn't deserve the leadoff spot over Nate McLouth as long as this continues. McLouth is walking at a rate of 11.2% with a .337 OBP and .309 wOBA. These aren't mind-blowing numbers, but they are better than Schafer's. Assuming Martin Prado returns to full strength when he is activated, Schafer should take a seat to McLouth, and McLouth should return to the leadoff role.

This is actually difficult for me in some ways because Schafer's defense is much better than McLouth's. However, knowing Schafer would remain in the leadoff spot if he is starting, I feel the best value comes with McLouth in center.

Braves fans find Schafer's eight stolen bases and multiple bunt singles to be sparkly and exciting, but his bat is not helping the Braves.