Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2/29 Morning Buzz: Ryan Braun, Freddie Freeman, Tommy Hanson

Top Story:
Statements from Dino Laurenzi, the Ryan Braun sample collector.

Braves Bits: - Freddie Freeman to miss time with knee injury. - Tommy Hanson to retake concussion test Thursday.
ESPN - Brian McCann extension talks "premature."
MLBTR - The Braves' offseason in review.
Talking Chop - Reviewing Javy Lopez's book.

MLB News:
Nationals - Lost Sammy Solis to Tommy John surgery.
Mariners - Franklin Gutierrez suffered a pectoral injury.
Astros - Named Brett Myers the closer. He had a 4 fWAR in 223 IP in 2010. But yes, relegating him to one inning on a Houston team that needs all the extra value it can get is always the best idea.

MLB Bits:
A good source for extension news.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2/28 Morning Buzz: Chipper Jones, Salvador Perez, Yadier Molina

Top Story:
Chipper takes shot at drug cheaters.

Braves Bits:
Talking Chop - Terry Francona Interviews Fredi Gonzalez. - News and notes from the MLB site.

MLB News:
Royals - Signed Salvador Perez to a five-year extension.
Royals - Signed Vin Mazzaro to one-year deal.
Athletics - Scott Sizemore out for the season with a torn ACL. I would expect Josh Donaldson to get first crack at third base.
Cardinals - Expected to sign Yadier Molina for five years at around $75 million. It's just too much money for him. Work out your $/WAR all you want, whatever it comes out to be. But it's too much.
MLB - Danys Baez is retiring.
Red Sox - Jason Varitek will retire Thursday.
Reds - Signed Sean Marshall to three-year extension.

Monday, February 27, 2012

2/27 Morning Buzz: Ryan Zimmerman, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Braun

Top Story:
Ryan Zimmerman signs six-year extension worth $100 million. He will be the second richest third baseman annually behind Alex Rodriguez. He also gets a full no-trade clause beginning in a couple years. This type of money was bound to happen for Zimmerman, so good job by the Nationals to get it done quickly.

Braves Bits:
Capitol Avenue Club - Medlen and Vizcaino Boost Bullpen.
AJC - Tommy Hanson could return by Tuesday.
AJC - On Michael Bourn and Tyler Pastornicky. "Uncle Tyler."
AJC - On Freddie Freeman. - On Brandon Beachy. - On Joe Terdoslavich, Hanson and Jonny Venters.

MLB News:
Twins - Joel Zumaya threw all of 13 pitches before needing another surgery. Not to be insincere about Zumaya's situation, but the worst part of this is he was the Twins' bullpen move this winter. For a pen that finished last year with a 4.51 ERA and 4.43 FIP, that's not good news.
MLB - Hideki Matsui can't find a job.
Athletics - Scott Sizemore went down with an apparent knee injury.
MLB - Bengie Molina officially retires.
Angels - Torii Hunter wants to play two or three more years.

MLB Bits:
Brewers - Will Carroll's details on the Ryan Braun case.
Red Sox - Bobby Valentine bans alcohol in Red Sox clubhouse. This will get a lot of play, obviously, but it should be a normal occurrence, in my opinion.
Rays - Rays' rotation quietly among MLB's best.
Mariners - Entertaining intrasquad game recap from Lookout Landing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

2/24 Morning Buzz: Ryan Braun, Mike Minor, Roy Oswalt

Top Story:
Ryan Braun will not be suspended 50 games. Braun's statement can be found here. MLB "vehemently disagrees" with the decision, naturally. And here is the best explanation I found about the news. And here is the best opinion I found on MLB's reaction.

Braves Bits:
AJC - Mike Minor feels he should either be in Atlanta's rotation or not in the organization. I would like to think his words were out of context or he was put on the spot or however it usually goes. It's not good practice for a young player to make such comments, even if they are true.
Talking Chop - John Smoltz To Release Autobiography.

MLB News:
MLB - Roy Oswalt will sit out the first half of the season and remain ready. You're not THAT valuable, Roy.
Dodgers - Claimed Matt Angle off waivers from the Orioles. Also, Rubby De La Rosa was moved to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Angle.
Dodgers - Joe Torre's group withdrew from bidding.

MLB Bits:
MLB - Elijah Dukes was arrested again. The guy was trying to eat a bag of pot.
Yankees - The Yankees and Russell Martin was discussing a three-year extension.
Padres - The Padres and Cameron Maybin are discussing an extension.
Nationals - The Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman continue to discuss an extension. However, they face a Saturday deadline.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2/23 Morning Buzz: Michael Bourn, Roy Oswalt, Ichiro

Top Story:
No extension talks for Michael Bourn yet. I made the case for extending Bourn last week. Here's to hoping something can get done at some point.

Braves Bits: - Via the link above, Bowman notes Tommy Hanson will rest over the weekend from his concussion suffered during a car accident on Monday. Also, Fredi Gonzalez backtracked on his comments regarding either Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado starting the season in the Braves bullpen.

MLB News:
Angels - Signed Jason Isringhausen to a minor league deal.
Yankees - Signed David Aardsma to a one-year deal with a club option for 2013. It's basically an addition for the stretch run.
Blue Jays - Signed Rick Vandenhurk to a split contract.

MLB Bits:
MLB - Roy Oswalt could make a decision as soon as today.
MLB - Edgar Renteria won't play in 2012 and could retire. I've always been a huge fan of Renteria and it will be a sad day for me when it becomes official.
Dodgers - Clayton Kershaw's first pen was delayed by a tight back.
Indians - Jon Garland is no longer an option for the Indians. It appears he isn't ready to return from rehabbing his shoulder yet.
Rays - Ben Zobrist: The Guy We Should Have Predicted.
Cubs/Red Sox - Cubs Fan Buys Red Sox Spring Park Domain Name.
Mariners - Ichiro's new swing. For the first time in his life, Ichiro has a load in his swing, and his lower half is sound. I see more power coming from this swing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Should Kris Medlen Get A Shot At Starting In April?

A lot of uncertainty surrounds a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery. As past victims have told it, it's about regaining a feel for the ball. As analysts have shown it, walk rates sometimes come into the picture as the pitcher struggles to regain control.

Therefore, penciling in Kris Medlen for anything more than a relief role could be risky. But to me, Medlen is the best choice to fill in for Tim Hudson until Hudson returns from back surgery in late April or early May.

One, Medlen has been there. I know Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado have major league innings, but Medlen threw 107.2 innings in 2010 and was very effective, recording a 3.68 ERA, 3.78 FIP and 3.49 xFIP. His walk rate was a VERY good 4.8%, and he had a solid mix of 19 K% and 42.9 GB%.

Medlen's strength has always been control, evident by a 5.5% walk rate in 120.1 innings at Double-A at 22 years old. So regaining a feel for the strike zone is perhaps more important to Medlen than for a pitcher who might rely on better stuff. But if Medlen is able to rebound from the surgery and prove just as effective as he was prior, the spot should be his.

Building off the fact that Medlen has more experience than Teheran and Delgado is that having Medlen in there provides the least amount of risk of the three options. Yes, Teheran and Delgado are both immensely talented arms, but let's face it, they're young and could require a learning curve. If I'm looking for the best numbers in a month of starts, I'm going with Medlen.

All three options come with their share of risks. Medlen could respond poorly in his return off the bat, while Teheran and Delgado could stumble out of the gate knowing the job is theirs for a month. Then again, all three are talented and should succeed if given the opportunity. It's a nice problem to have.

We have a little bit of early knowledge from Florida on the topic, as David O'Brien reported that Medlen is being looked at as more of a Plan B for the rotation right now. I hope hype isn't driving this decision. For a full month, the Braves need to start the arm that can give them the best numbers. I feel Medlen should be the answer.

2/22 Morning Buzz: Tommy Hanson, Braves ESPN Coverage, Baseball America Top 100

Top Story:
Hanson has minor concussion, likely out a few days. Grade 1 concussion, the most minor, if there is a such thing. At least if it had to happen it did early in camp.

Braves Bits:
ESPN - Braves stay mostly intact from year ago.
ESPN - Which way is Freddie Freeman headed?.
Talking Chop - Bobbleheads Are Back In 2012.

MLB News:
Yankees - Signed Eric Chavez to a major league deal.
Indians/Rangers - The Indians sold Kelvin De La Cruz to the Rangers.
Indians - Signed Cristian Guzman to a minor league deal with an invite.
Cubs/Red Sox - The compensation for Theo is Chris Carpenter. I just love that the Red Sox initially asked about Matt Garza and Starlin Castro. Also of note from the link is Bobby Jenks was moved to the 60-day DL to make room for Carpenter.

MLB Bits:
MLB - Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects. Julio Teheran - 5, Arodys Vizcaino - 40, Randall Delgado - 46, Andrelton Simmons - 92.
MLB - Interview with Dirk Hayhurst.
Twins - Interview With Twins Assistant GM Rob Antony.
Yankees - Bearish On Betances.
Dodgers - Javy Guerra Opens Camp As Dodgers Closer.
Dodgers - Dodgers name Clayton Kershaw opening day starter.
Mariners - Ichiro moves to third in the lineup. Chone Figgins will likely bat leadoff. Chone Figgins can't get on base.
Rays - Matt Moore Is Good. Simple, yet elegant.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2/21 Morning Buzz: Tommy Hanson, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera

Top Story:
Hanson in accident, checked for concussion. I can think of better ways for Tommy Hanson to begin his spring than blowing a tire and bumping his head.

Braves Bits:
Capitol Avenue Club - Fifth Starter Out Of Camp.
AJC - Medlen prefers starting.

MLB News:
Athletics - The A's signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal. There's nothing you can really hate about this. If it works out, Oakland gets a solid bat for nothing. If it doesn't work out, they lose nothing.
Yankees - The Yankees signed Raul Ibanez for one year at $1.1 million.
Korea - Former Brave Horacio Ramirez signed with the Kia Tigers. Knowing Horacio is 32 years old leaves me wondering where the years went.

MLB Bits:
Yankees - Contemplating the End of the Mariano Rivera Era.
Pirates - A.J. Burnett in a Pittsburgh jersey. He already looked like a pirate anyway.
Angels/Tigers - Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder in their new jerseys. I've felt all along that Pujols seems to fit in Angels gear. Maybe it's just the red I'm used to.
Giants - Giants tell Posey not to block plate this season.
Rockies - Rockies commit to Jim Tracy 'indefinitely' with new deal.
Red Sox - Bobby Valentine on Mike Aviles, Nick Punto and Jose Iglesias.
Mets - Jonathan Niese has a new nose, everybody.

Monday, February 20, 2012

2/20 Morning Buzz: Mike Cameron, Tim Hudson, Reporting Day

Top Story:
Mike Cameron announces his retirement. The big-name retirements continue. Cameron was forever underrated because he relied on defense, but he was an extremely valuable center fielder in his career.

Braves Bits:
AJC - Jurrjens, Hudson: worried to optimistic in 2-1/2 months. "(Hudson) nodded across the clubhouse to Kris Medlen and said the versatile starter-reliever was as good as anyone the Braves had." I feel like this isn't getting nearly enough play. Medlen should be in line for a rotation spot in Hudson's absence, in my opinion.
AJC - Moylan progressing in rehab, won't rush return.
AJC - Jason Heyward throwing at Disney. Beautiful sight.
AJC - A full gallery of photos from the first day. - Several Braves get early start on spring work. - As camp nears, Wren has confidence in Braves.

MLB News:
Phillies - Kyle Kendrick signs a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. I don't see the reason for this, as Kendrick isn't really worth a multi-year deal at any point in his career. But I guess the Phillies know what they're getting with him, and they're fine with that.
Giants - Ryan Vogelsong has a strained back and will miss the first 10 days of camp. It's not a good start for someone trying to maintain consistency following a breakthrough season last year, but it might be minor.
Yankees - New York signs left-handed reliever Clay Rapada to a minor league deal.

MLB Bits:
MLB - Win percentages for position players. H/T The Book Blog.
Yankees - Johnny Damon is no longer an option for the Yankees.
Cubs - Cubs Might Talk Extension With Matt Garza.
Phillies - Jonathan Papelbon 'excited' for Phillies. I don't know, man. What about that contract, man? Yeah, man.
Cardinals - Cardinals table extension talks with Yadier Molina.
Cubs - New 'Cub Way' beginning in Arizona.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

2/18 Morning Buzz: A.J. Burnett, Braves Rotation, Tim Wakefield

Top Story:
Yankees/Pirates - The Pirates and Yankees have agreed to a deal sending A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh. The Pirates will pay $13 million of the $31.1 million left, and they are sending Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones to New York. Neither of the prospects seem to be major factors.

Braves Bits:
Braves-Nation - Who are the Braves top 5 starters?
FanGraphs - Braves Bet on Regression to the Mean. Eh.
AJC - This time, Venters and Kimbrel will ease into spring. What matters most in this post is the Brian McCann extension talks squeezed near the bottom, which says little but still brings up the point that McCann is a year away from an option year. Whether they will begin talks this season or next is something to keep an eye on.
AJC - The Braves vs. Braves prospects game April 3 will be shown on It pits Fredi Gonzalez against Bobby Cox, so it should be an entertaining game. Thankfully I'll get to catch it now.

MLB News:
Red Sox - Tim Wakefield Announces Retirement. Wakefield came through my town as a light-hitting shortstop the year I was born. That should tell you something about his longevity. I will miss the knuckler.
Yankees - The Yanks will announce deals with Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez after the Burnett trade is finalized.

MLB Bits:
MLB - Empire State Building's tribute to Gary Carter.
MLB - Heyman by the Numbers.
Red Sox - Tim Wakefield getting whiffs with his fastball. I laughed at the Ichiro .gif.
Red Sox - Jason Varitek might also be retiring. It's a new age in Boston, no doubt.
Mets - Johan Santana throws a 25-pitch pen. It's Santana's first mound action since last October.
Yankees - Hideki Okajima failed his physical and will not join the team in Florida. It's tough to see him getting another shot at this point, but you never know.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Andrelton Simmons' Place On Prospect Lists

Andrelton Simmons is one of the most talked about prospects in the Braves system. Why? Because there is a wide gap between thoughts on his projection.

There is the belief that Simmons is the eventual starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, capable of providing plus defense with a serviceable bat. There is also the belief that Simmons won't be anything more than a utility infielder at the major league level, and his ceiling is that of a starter on a last-place team.

Simmons is Exhibit A for the case that Braves position prospects are being overrated because of the lack of depth in the system. Just because Simmons is worthy of a top 10 ranking doesn't mean he's worthy of a starting shortstop ceiling in the major leagues. Yet, far too many are doing just that to him.

He doesn't walk, recording 44 free passes in 839 pro plate appearances, and relies too heavily on BABIP for a high projection. In 269 plate appearances in Danville two years ago, a .282 BABIP resulted in a .276 batting average. He maintained a .340 OBP, but the small sample 5.9 BB% resulted in much of that.

The 570 plate appearances at Lynchburg last year showed his true plate discipline, as he posted a .334 BABIP to the tune of a .311 average and .351 OBP. However, the walk rate declined to 5.1% as he traded a bit of his walks for more power, upping his slugging percentage to .408 with 35 doubles.

Simmons will never project to have power in the upper levels, so in order to have a serviceable bat, he will need to walk and get on base consistently. He hasn't shown the ability to do the former yet, and the latter so far has been largely the result of BABIP.

To cut things short, Simmons' type of bat doesn't project well in the upper levels, and he will rely on his superb defense to make it. That is likely to happen, because his defense already projects as major league ready. He can serve a National League team well with his defense, but I can't help but feel the bat may prevent him from starting.

The bat has to be there to some extent to be more than just a utility infielder, and this season at Double-A should be the true test. If he continues to move up the ladder with good averages, I'll be more than happy to eat my words, because shortstops with plus defense are valuable. But I don't see the projected value being worthy of a top five or six pick on Braves prospect lists yet.

He has to prove his bat in the upper levels before I'm willing to go that high on him. But with the lack of bats in the Braves system right now, he's blindly handed a high selection on lists. Just because a player is one of the better bats in the system doesn't mean he's worthy of a high pick ahead of more projection-type arms and bats. If anything, it shows how poor the Braves system is for hitting.

If I'm forecasting his 2012 season at Mississippi, I would go along the lines of .270/.320/.380. If I'm forecasting his career in the majors, I'm saying the same thing. Whatever he does in Double-A and Triple-A could be somewhat of a predictor for his major league career. It will depend on how he responds and adjusts to advanced pitching with an empty bat.

Simmons' rank on community lists:
Talking Chop - 9th
Capitol Avenue Club - 8th
Chop-n-Change - 9th
Tomahawk Take - 6th
FanGraphs - 6th
Kevin Goldstein - 5th
Keith Law - 5th
Baseball America - 4th

2/17 Morning Buzz: Gary Carter, Bill Walker, Javy Lopez

Top Story:
Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter dies at 57
Reading so many good things about Carter, not just from yesterday following the news of his passing but prior as well, made it an especially sad day for baseball. As Craig Calcaterra said, it was inevitable, but it doesn't make it any less sad. Carter was a true gentleman to his wife and family, and it's something we could use more of in this world.

Braves Bits:
Jerry Crasnick - ESPN feature on new hitting coach Bill Walker.
Mark Bowman - Braves hopes depend on the health of Hanson and Jurrjens.
Mark Bowman - Braves stolen base leaders from 2006-2011...
LoveMyBravos - Javy Lopez to release autobiography; new Braves commercial. I'm loving the commercial.
TimesFreePress - Video of Bill Walker discussing the upcoming season.

MLB News:
Pirates - Garrett Jones lost his arbitration case to the Pirates, earning $2.25 million in 2012. Also, the team and Casey McGehee avoided arbitration with a deal at just above Jones'.
Red Sox - The Red Sox signed Ross Ohlendorf as minor league depth. They also signed former Brave Mauro Gomez to a minor league deal. Gomez can mash but is aging and is an AL-only bat.

MLB Bits:
Red Sox - Shot of JetBlue Park, the Red Sox's new spring stadium.
Nationals - Pitching coach Steve McCatty on the Nats rotation.
Rays - Not sure where this came from, but staring at it too long freaks me out.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Look At Extending Michael Bourn

I don't claim to be an expert on the Braves' budget, and I don't know their situation going forward, as far as projected spending room for the next few years. So this post is based on the notion that they can afford an extension, and I'm making this case because of value and stats.

If the Braves can afford to do so, they should give Michael Bourn an extension. Over the past few years, Bourn has been incredibly underrated. Since 2009, he has the third highest fWAR among center fielders at 13.8. He's behind Matt Kemp for first by only half a win, and take a second to think of the names he is ahead of on the list of center fielders: Curtis Granderson, Shane Victorino and Andrew McCutchen.

Among the top 10 center fielders since 2009, Bourn is sixth in OBP at .348. This may not seem overwhelming as a leadoff hitter, but he has maintained a 8.7 BB% while keeping the strikeouts below 20%. So he can take a walk and work counts even with the slightly lower on-base numbers.

But the thing to note is Bourn really gets the maximum out of his leadoff hitting abilities. There are so few true leadoff hitters (based on the traditional leadoff type) who can combine the speed characteristics with on-base ability. Bourn's name is right there with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Denard Span and Victorino. And that's pretty much it. That's pretty solid company.

Bourn's value as a base stealer has been recorded multiple times and there's no need to return to that part of the story. The same can be said for his defense, which rates among the best for center fielders. You could say he gets a larger portion of his value from speed and defense, which is his game.

My perception is Bourn fails to get the same recognition as the others on the previous list. Reasons could be team (Houston and Atlanta aren't exactly media hot beds) and he's a pretty quiet fellow who sticks to the right words between the quotation marks.

Of course, I know better than to think the Braves don't recognize Bourn's talent for these reasons. If they thought along those lines, they would sit in last place every season. Frank Wren knows what he has in Bourn, and if he thinks he can afford an extension, he will do it, I'm sure.

Bourn provides a ton of value in a prime position with a set of tools that are constantly overlooked. This is a combination the Braves should take advantage of by keeping around longer. Here's to hoping it can happen.

For a deeper look into what it might take to extend Bourn, check out Ben Duronio's post at Capitol Avenue Club.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Looking At Craig Kimbrel's 2011 Season Historically

Reliever WAR according to FanGraphs:

1. Eric Gagne (2003): 4.5
2. Francisco Rodriguez (2004): 4
3. Brad Lidge (2004): 3.8
4. J.J. Putz (2006): 3.6
5. B.J. Ryan (2004): 3.4
6. Eric Gagne (2002): 3.2
7. Mariano Rivera (2001): 3.3
8. Jonathan Papelbon (2006): 3.2
8. Octavio Dotel (2001): 3.2
8. Craig Kimbrel (2011): 3.2
8. Mariano Rivera (2005): 3.2
8. Rafael Betancourt (2007): 3.2
8. Takashi Saito (2006): 3.2

Average Age: 28
Youngest: Francisco Rodriguez (22), Craig Kimbrel (23)
Rookies: 2 (Kimbrel, Papelbon, Saito)

The list represents the top relievers in baseball from 2001 to 2011 based on FanGraphs WAR. The only three on the list just getting their careers started were Rodriguez, Kimbrel and Papelbon. (Saito was 36 but technically a rookie; Rodriguez was in his second year; Papelbon was technically a rookie but pitched 34 innings the previous year; Kimbrel was in his first year.) In fact, Kimbrel is tied for eighth-best season over the past 10 years while he was five years younger than the average age on the list.

Kimbrel's 1.52 FIP and 1.94 xFIP are both second on the list to Gagne's '03 season, which should be strapped to a rocket and sent to outer space.

Go back 20 years and Kimbrel's season would qualify as 15th-best by WAR.

Go back 30 years and Kimbrel's season falls off the leaderboard due to a change in reliever usage (relievers throwing more than 100 innings in the '70s). However, among rookies, he remained tied for second-best with Papelbon, Saito and Brian Fisher. In 1986, Mark Eichhorn threw 157 innings - all in relief - with a 1.72 ERA and 2.31 FIP for 5.3 WAR. He finished 38 of the 69 games appeared in. By comparison, Kimbrel finished 64 games out of his 79 appearances. It's a different way of earning reliever WAR altogether. So if you want to judge by the new form of bullpen usage, you could say Kimbrel's 2011 is tied with Papelbon's 2006 for the top rookie season among relievers in this generation.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Leaderboard: HR/FB And Tommy Hanson

2011 HR/FB rates:
(100+ IP)

1. Tommy Hanson - 12.5%
2. Derek Lowe - 10.2
3. Brandon Beachy - 9.8
4. Tim Hudson - 8.7
5. Jair Jurrjens - 8

We're talking small samples in the cases of Hanson, Beachy and Jurrjens because of injuries and innings limits, but it's interesting nonetheless. Hanson's HR/FB in his 202-inning season in 2010 was 5.8%, and a 3.31 ERA compared to a 3.87 xFIP says the number was a bit low. I would tend to agree with that, but it certainly didn't spell out such an increase as we saw in his 130 innings last season.

Hanson is a more balanced pitcher than I anticipated coming into the majors. His fly ball and groundball tendencies have stuck hard to approximately 40% each through 460 innings. So a high home run rate isn't necessarily as much of a given as previously thought. However, an increase from 5.8% to 12.5% is odd regardless, and last season's should be taken with a grain of salt.

More so, injuries likely had some effect on the increase in home runs per fly balls for Hanson, as he pitched through shoulder issues and saw a dip in fastball velocity. I always hate to get into things such as this, though, and try to refrain from speculating on injury effects.

A healthy Hanson should fare much better in the home runs allowed category, and I would peg him somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-8%. It's something the Braves really need this year.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Giving Kenshin Kawakami His Due

Word is former Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami is headed back to Japan. I for one would like to give the Braves' first and only Japanese signing his due.

Kawakami's 3.86 ERA in his rookie season of 2009 wasn't quite the best indication of his talent, as his 4.21 FIP and 4.55 xFIP showed. He didn't have any one strength; he didn't strike out a ton of batters, his walk rate was middle ground, and his home run rate was average at best.

But that is what made Kawakami who he was. He was an average starter for a National League team, and you could count on independent numbers to be anywhere from 4 to 4.5. Livan Hernandez made a career out of it. Barry Zito is making a ton of money right now doing it. For some reason, Aaron Harang was the leader of a rotation with numbers like that.

It wasn't Kawakami's fault he made $6 million a year to put up average numbers. He took the contract the Braves offered, and it's Atlanta's fault for offering so much to a pitcher with only average stuff. However, he was basically termed an outcast for it, getting placed in the bullpen and not seeing the light of day for weeks at the time. And it finally got bad enough to send him not to Triple-A Gwinnett, but Double-A Mississippi, where he toiled in obscurity. His numbers there make me believe he gave up after struggling from injury, and I wouldn't have blamed him one bit.

Kawakami had every right to blast the front office for how he was treated, but he never did. He did what he does, tossing average stuff and producing average numbers, and continued to do so in his second season despite an inflated ERA. But the Braves apparently wanted nothing to do with him despite no changes from his rookie year except the ERA, and they used it as an excuse to put him in a hole until his contract expired.

For the Braves' credit, it seems like they did make the effort to trade him and give him another opportunity. Several Japanese teams reportedly had interest in him, but the contract proved to be a wall in negotiations. I don't see this as an excuse to bury him in the organization, though.

If Kawakami was looking at only returning to Japan and not seeking another Major League job via free agency this winter, I wouldn't blame him. He probably wouldn't get more than a spring invite, and you know he doesn't want to return to the minors.

So as a Braves fan, I would like to say thanks to KK for what he gave the team in his limited time in Atlanta. May he find more success back in Japan.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

McGuirk On Payroll, Ownership, TV Deal

Nothing ever happens in Braves world, so what we get is payroll and TV deal talk, all of which is pretty much never a good thing. Tim Tucker of the AJC gives us the details in an interview with Terry McGuirk.

He said the Braves have “a little over $90 million right now” committed toward 2012 salaries and will reach the previously undisclosed $94 million budget, up slightly from last year, with acquisitions before or during the season.

“That being said, we inherited a deal that was done under [previous owner Turner Broadcasting/Time Warner] a little over four years ago, before the sale, that lasts out through 25 years. So there is no opportunity for a different deal than the one we have. Every single set of games on the different networks that we are seen on [Fox Sports South, SportSouth and Peachtree TV] are all 25-year deals or thereabouts.”

McGuirk said the deals call for “cost-of-living type increases” each year, but contain no options for renegotiation.

“They were at-market deals when they were done, but the market has changed,” he said. “We will have to look elsewhere for the increases that we will need in revenue to continue to build this franchise. It’s what the owners at the time decided to do, so we have to live with it. ... It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not going to be these newer deals where there is cash up front.”

Asked if the TV contracts will be a competitive disadvantage for the Braves over the next two decades, McGuirk said: “Let’s just say it won’t be an advantage.”

Basically, the Braves are stuck in no-man's land with their payroll because of little cash flow, and it will only get worse over time with their current TV deal, which will soon become obsolete in Major League Baseball.

This doesn't mean the Braves will become a cellar dweller down the road, but it does mean the front office's room for error will grow smaller and smaller. Player development will become more crucial by the year, and free agency will become an afterthought (it's basically to that point already).

As long as the Braves continue to churn out young talent at a fairly consistent rate, I don't see this as having to be depressing news, though. Keep talent flowing through the system and give yourself a shot at the playoffs every year. Teams are making a living following this way of thinking.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jack Wilson Returns On One-Year Deal; Martin Prado Avoids Arb

The Braves brought back reserve shortstop Jack Wilson on a one-year deal worth $1 million, with $500,000 in possible incentives. Not much to say here, but this might be the best part of the deal:

Long before the Braves called, Wilson was already providing that. After the Braves lost to the Phillies to end the season – the one and only night of Pastornicky’s call-up – Wilson and Pastornicky got to talking about defense. Wilson invited Pastornicky to come to his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif. to work out in his backyard infield, which they plan to do early next month.

“When I first came up, I had Pat Meares who took me under his wing,” said Wilson, who broke in with the Pirates. “He’d been a major league shortstop for nine or 10 years. Now you have an opportunity to do what somebody did for you. Tyler seems like a great kid, and I’m looking forward to helping him out any way I can.”

The Braves wanted a backup shortstop capable of providing solid defense while showing Tyler Pastornicky a thing or two, and who better than the guy they traded for the previous season? Wilson can still provide solid defense in a pinch, and he seems willing to take on the role of mentor for the rookie.

The Braves also re-signed Martin Prado to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration, earning him an average salary for the production. This doesn't affect trade possibilities, but the chances of either Prado or Jair Jurrjens, or both, to be traded before spring seem less likely by the day. Frank Wren acknowledged just that. At this point, unless a team flies in at the last minute, I don't see them going anywhere.

The remaining arb-eligible Braves are Jurrjens, Michael Bourn and Eric O'Flaherty.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The "Need" For Peter Moylan

Pardon me while I'm a grinch for a minute.

Bill Shanks wrote this on Peter Moylan today, saying the Braves "need" to bring him back for the good of the team. If you read it, you know it's a lovey dovey piece with no analysis to back up the claim, so I'm not exactly targeting Shanks' column. I am, however, targeting the belief that the Braves have to bring Moylan back.

First of all, Moylan is a middle reliever, and middle relievers are fungible. Even in a great season, they are just above replacement level and can be interchanged much more than some realize. Moylan was a solid arm in the seventh and eighth innings a few seasons ago, but even then he could have been swapped out for another relief arm with relative ease.

Moylan has had two good seasons and a decent one. He threw a laughable 90 innings in 2007 to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 3.97 FIP, but what made that season was an 8.6 BB%, which would prove to be his best. Ever since, it's obvious the 90-inning season set him back. He missed almost all of 2008 with Tommy John surgery. He came back in 2009 and posted a 2.84 ERA and 2.95 FIP in 73 innings, but his walk rate jumped to 11.3%. His innings decreased to 63.2 in 2010, and his walk rate increased again to 13.7% with a 4.30 FIP. Finally, injuries derailed his 2011 season, and a shoulder surgery leaves question marks this offseason. Non-tendering him after shoulder surgery was common sense, and I'm sure the Braves are hoping he'll take the bare minimum to come back to Atlanta.

But that's exactly the point. The Braves are hoping he'll take the bare minimum to come back. That doesn't sound like they "need" him. They don't. No team in Major League Baseball "needs" a 33-year-old middle reliever coming off shoulder surgery with increasing walk rates and decreasing innings pitched.

This is the pure statistical point of view, of course. Moylan is by all accounts a great teammate and I'm sure he keeps the clubhouse loose. But it all comes down to how much you value such a thing. Braves fans will want to keep him around because he's funny and is easy to root for. I'm sure Braves players want to keep him around because he's probably a good teammate. Should Frank Wren want to keep him around? There's really no need.

I'm not calling for Moylan to be barred from Turner Field. I'm just saying there are several relievers capable of holding a major league relief spot at or above Moylan's value already in the Braves system at league minimum. It would make sense to turn to these arms and save the few dollars.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Farewell, Brooks Conrad

The Brooks Conrad era officially ended today with the Brewers' addition of Conrad on a minor league deal, so says Ken Rosenthal.

Conrad was non-tendered by the Braves back on Dec. 13, and it was said at the time that they wanted to see if he could get himself a better deal than what Atlanta could offer, which was a minor league deal with no real shot at the big league club for at least most of the season. The Braves are going in a different direction with their bench this year, meaning they want a defense-first utility infielder capable of playing a solid shortstop. Conrad is none of those things.

However, I'm not sure his chances are much greater in Milwaukee. Dude named Taylor Green stands to be in his way as a 3B/2B backup. Green is a Top 5 Brewers prospect who mashed at Triple-A last season at age 24 to the tune of .336/.413/.583 with a .248 ISO, .428 wOBA and 11.3 BB%. If that doesn't earn you a major league spot at 25 years old, nothing will. You would think the Brewers will give Green a shot before Conrad, and considering Brooks was probably not signed for his middle infield defense, it's probably his only shot. We'll see how it plays out.

It's been noted more than once that Conrad is someone you can truly root for, and I wish him the best in the Brewers organization. He handled the 2010 NLDS situation so well despite so many jackasses constantly in his ear. I will forever be ashamed of how Braves fans treated him during and after that game. But Braves fans have never been known as the brightest of the bunch, and I am a Braves fan.

Good luck to Brooks.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stephen Marek Finds Work, Among Braves News

A couple of Braves-related tidbits to keep you occupied during the baseball depression that is winter.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus tweets minor leaguer Marcus Lemon was released by the Braves today. Lemon's name has always caused a double-take or two because he is the son of Chet Lemon, who hit .273 with 215 home runs in 16 seasons between the White Sox and Tigers. Chet led the league in doubles with 44 as part of a .318/.391/.496 season in 1979, and he also led the league in HBP four times. He was also a three-time All-Star.

As for Marcus, he hasn't made it past AA yet, splitting time between A+ Lynchburg and AA Mississippi for the Braves in 2011, hitting .254/.303/.333 with 15 doubles in 372 plate appearances. He got a million bucks out of the Rangers as a fourth-round pick in 2006, so that certainly worked out well for them.

Former Braves relief prospect Stephen Marek signed with the Blue Jays, according to Goldstein. Marek was a reliever many hoped would eventually get a shot in the Atlanta bullpen, but for some reason he continued to get passed over for lesser relievers at higher costs, such as Scott Proctor (shudder). I had him ranked No. 17 on my Braves prospect list before last season, writing that he should be the first to get a call up. It never materialized, and he underwent Tommy John surgery, limiting him to just 10.2 innings.

It's the type of move you would expect from organizations like Toronto and Tampa Bay, looking to get the most out of relievers for the least amount. (Like Fernando Rodney to the Rays.)

Also, the Cubs signed utilityman Joe Mather, according to Goldstein. Yay.