Archive for April, 2005

I’m Back

Sorry for the technical problem. We have some server reconstruction going on, and MySQL got shut down by accident.

Thanks James!

I just wanted to say thanks to James Hall for his excellent player previews for the 2005 Braves. I’ve enjoyed reading them, and I hope you have, too. Hopefully, James will have some more good stuff in store for us in the future.

Braves 2005 Preview: Pitchers

Blaine Boyer
Blaine is a big guy who can really bring it, but is yet to develop a solid breaking ball. He had never pitched until the state playoffs of his senior year of high school. When his team ran out of pitching, they brought their centerfielder with the cannon for an arm in to try pitching. Well, Blaine came in and was consistently throwing mid-90s, and there happened to be several scouts in the stands. Less than a month later he was a 3rd round pick by the Braves, turned down a scholarship to play outfield at Auburn, and was pitching in rookie ball.

He has been very good each of the last two years, 12-8 in Rome and 12-12 with a 2.98 ERA in Myrtle Beach. He threw 154 innings last year, tops in the organization. He was knocked around a bit in his first time pitching against big leaguers, surrendering five runs in 1 1/3 innings of work. This spring will be a good test for Blaine against good hitters, and will prepare him well for a full season in AA. If he improves his off-speed stuff and pitches well in Mississippi this year, he should have a chance to come out the Atlanta pen in 2006.

Roman Colon
Colon was called up at the end of last season, and looked very good in his appearances. He only gave up seven ER in 19 innings, striking out 15 while walking just eight. He throws in the mid-90’s and has an excellent splitter to compliment the fastball. Before being called up he was 4-1, and only allowed four homeruns in 74 innings pitched; he was also 11-3 in 2003.

Colon possesses many of the qualities desired in a reliever. He has a plus fastball, a nasty second pitch, and keeps the ball in the park (didn’t allow a HR in his 19 MLB innings). He has good enough stuff to close, and if Kolb fails at the job, Colon may find himself this year. In addition, unless Kolb dominates, Colon will likely be his successor when Kolb’s contract expires this off-season.

Kyle Davies
Davies was rated by Baseball America as the best 15 year old in the country when he was a high school freshman, and I have been hearing all about him since then. I actually played against Davies several times in various showcases and tournaments where he played with East Cobb, as we are the same age, and you could just tell he had something that nobody else possessed. It has been fun to see him shoot up the Braves farm system, and if one of the starters doesn’t perform or gets hurt, I would expect to see Davies get the call to fill in this year. He has excellent stuff and command (95 K/32 BB last year), and has the look of a future star.

Kevin Gryboski
Gryboski is the rare situational righty, and he pitched well when called upon last year. Working with a fastball that can reach mid-90s and a nasty sinker, his specialty is coming on to get groundball outs. His groundball to flyball ratio last year was 2.9 to 1, and he induced ten double-play balls in just 50.2 innings pitched. He only allowed two homeruns and had an ERA of 2.48. He was rewarded with a $500,000 raise this off-season, signing a one year, $877,000 contract this winter.

Kevin is an excellent example of how well Cox handles a pitching staff. He doesn’t ask Gryboski to close games, or pitch 2+ innings. He uses Kevin anytime from the 6th inning on when a groundball is needed, and Gryboski usually delivers. I look for more of the same from Gryboski this year.

John Smoltz
This is year is going to be a lot of fun for John Smoltz. Everyone knew that he was growing tired of closing, and this year he will make his glorious return to the starting rotation. All reports indicate that his arm is healthy, and his stuff looks nasty as ever. He should have no problem starting, and will probably have an excellent first half. The real test will lie in his second half performance, whether his arm holds up through the stretch run and postseason.

It has been five years since John has thrown more than 100 innings, and will turn 38 in May. He is such an incredible athlete that I believe he can pull it off, have a great season. He is unlikely to dominate the end of the season, as he probably will at the start, but will gut it out during the stretch and win some key September games.

John Thomson
Thomson was given a reprieve from the horrendous Texas staff last season, and thanked Atlanta with a very good season. He was the Braves most consistent pitcher down the stretch, and his absence against Houston hurt them mightily in the NLDS. He set a career high with 14 wins, going 8-2 after the All-Star break, and 4-0 in September with a 1.36 ERA. He did allow 20 HR last year, but 15 of those occurred before the break when he was having problems with leaving his fastball ball up in the zone. Thomson has three excellent pitches in his 90+ mph fastball, tight curveball, and deceptive change. When his fastball is down it is very accurate and has good life.

He has fully recovered from the oblique strain that ended his season prematurely, and is primed to have a fabulous 2005 season. Based on the way he threw the ball at the end of last year, and the reports of him dazzling this spring, I would look for 15-17 wins and an ERA between 3 and 3.50. At age 31, John is right at the peak of his physical prime, and there is nothing stopping him from dominating this year.

Horacio Ramirez
There are many question marks surrounding the future of Horacio. He was excellent in 2003, going 12-4 in 29 starts. However, his 2004 season was basically a wash, as he went on the DL in May and never returned. He has thrown 242 innings in his major league career, going 14-8 with a 3.60 ERA. He is also a left-handed starting pitcher, which is a rare commodity. Normally these stats would rank him as one of the better young starters in the league. However, his peripheral numbers have not been good enough for me to have much faith in him this year. His BB/K numbers have been poor (131 K and 102 BB), and he has allowed almost a hit per inning pitched. As we all know, pitchers have little control over the outcome of the play once it leaves their hands, and it looks like Horacio has been pretty lucky the last two years.

On the other hand, Bobby has always liked Ramirez, and he certainly knows a lot more about baseball than I do. After a recent spring outing, Cox said, “The doctors said Ramirez would be ready for us and he has been. He’s hitting 90 miles per hour on his pitches and he’s locating everything the way we want him to do.” It is very difficult to predict what Horacio will do this year. Pitchers are far less predictable than hitters are when it comes to returning from injuries, and Horacio’s stats make it even harder to predict his season. He could win 15 games being lucky again or win 15 games by pitching really well. Conversely, he could be hit hard while pitching well as his luck evens out, or just have hitters hit him the way they could have in 2003 and 2004. I secretly think Horacio will it together and has another winning season, but I’m not confident enough to boldly make any sort of statistical predictions.

Mike Hampton
Hampton struggled for the last three years, but looked to have regained his old form since joining the Braves. He was 14-8 in 2003 and 13-9 with a 4.27 ERA last year, and ranked among the National League leaders in percentage of groundballs induced, with 66.8% of his outs coming on the ground. He pitched a great game in game two of the NLDS allowing just 2 runs in 7 innings, while keeping the Braves in the game until LaRoche and Furcal could work their magic. All reports indicate that his knee is healthy again, and he has been looking very good this spring.

Hampton struggled in the first half going 4-8, but recovered after the break going 9-1. He looked very confident every time out, which is important for a pitcher. Hampton has the stuff to once again win 20 games, and if he just trusts his stuff, he might well do that. He will be the fourth starter behind Smoltzie, Hudson and Thomson, and is one of the best fourth starters in all of baseball. Atlanta’s rotation is so good this year, that Hampton should win 15+ games as the fourth starter.

Tim Hudson
By far the biggest off-season acquisition, the Braves are looking for big things out of Hudson this year. The fact that he just signed a four-year, $47 million contract extension does not lower the pressure either. Tim was bothered by a strained oblique muscle last year, and only pitched 188 innings. However, he still managed to win 15 games, while only surrendering eight HR in those 188 innings.

As Hudson has gotten older, his strikeout rates have declined, a potential cause for concern considering he just signed a four-year deal. However, I think this is attributed more to him realizing his job is not to strike the hitters out, rather to simply get them out any way possible. His ground ball to fly ball ratio has improved significantly over this time as well. I think the return home, coupled with the tutelage of Leo Mazzone should have Tim primed for a big season this year. It is very possible that he could win 20 games and post a sub-3.00 ERA. I’m not sure if he will dominate to that extent this year, but for $47 million we should certainly be able to expect something around 17 wins and an ERA between 3.00 and 3.50.

Tom Martin
I think Houston is still getting hits off Tom Martin…he gave up four hits and a walk against them in the NLDS, while only getting one out. He was supposed to shore up the bullpen, but actually made the team worse. In just 17 innings of work with Atlanta, he gave up 17 hits, 7 runs, and 4 homeruns- these are just unacceptable stats for a reliever, especially a specialist. He supposedly was going through mechanical problems last year. If so, then why did they acquire him? Furthermore, when they saw he was no good, why did Bobby pitch him in games? I hope that Tom gets it together and pitches will this year, but I don’t see it happening.

Jorge Vasquez
Vasquez was the player to be named later acquired from Kansas City in the Eli Marrero deal. His main were not that impressive last year (4-5, 4.68 ERA in AA with KC), but he did have 71 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 59 innings. He has displayed a power arm from the pen, and his 1.2 K/IP ratio display an ability to pick up a lot of strikeouts. Working under Leo Mazzone should help him harness his potential and really learn how to pitch, instead of just throwing. If everything works out according to plan, he can have a year like that of Juan Cruz last year. Cruz and Vasquez are very similar pitchers- good stuff who the Braves acquired based on the ability of Leo to help them become pitchers instead of just throwers. He is only 24 and has the potential to develop into a quality big league relief pitcher.

Chris Reitsma
Reitsma caught a lot of flack for pitching poorly down the stretch, but I think his poor performance was more from overuse than lack of ability. He has great stuff, featuring a mid-90s fastball with a good slider and change. It is rare to find a reliever with three above average pitches, and Reitsma is one of the few. He pitched OK until September when he allowed 7 ER in just 11 IP. He threw 79 innings last year, which is a pretty heavy workload for a relief pitcher. Reitsma was hurt by the gopher ball more than any pitcher on the Atlanta staff last year, as he surrendered 9 HR, and it seemed like all of them came at critical situations. He is a former first round draft pick who has a chance to really come into his own this year. If he can keep the ball down and trust his stuff, Chris can dominate in short stints out of the pen this year.

Anthony Lerew
Lerew has no shot at making the big club this year, but was added to the 40-man because he would have definitely been picked up by someone in the Rule 5 draft. He is a power righty who has posted excellent numbers thus far in his pro career. He had 125 strikeouts and only 46 walks in 144 innings, for a 3:1 BB/K ratio, and averaged almost a K per inning pitched. He was only 8-9 last year, but W-L record is the least important stat for minor league pitchers. He has shown excellent command and an ability to dominate (367 K, 128 BB, and 420 IP). He will be in AA this year, and with a good year could push for a spot in Atlanta next year. Anthony is undoubtedly a very good prospect.

Macay McBride
McBride is another young pitcher who I played against growing up; in fact, my AAU team even picked him up for one tournament. He is a rare power lefty, who has very good breaking stuff to go along with a 90 mph fastball. He excelled in rookie and A ball, but did not pitch well in AA at all (1-7, 4.44 ERA, 113 H, 49 BB in 107 IP). He still may be a better left-handed option out of the pen than Tom Martin, who has yet to show anything at all in Atlanta. Macay has a chance to make the Atlanta pen with a strong spring, but is more likely to head back down to AA or AAA and continue starting every 5th day.

Dan Kolb
The trade of Jose Cappellan to Milwaukee left many Braves fans asking, “Danny who?” but those of us who follow the majors closely knew exactly who Atlanta had acquired. Kolb took over as the Brewers’ closer mid-way through 2003, and was lights out. In fact, I remember him closing out a game against the Braves that year where he mowed down the Braves in the ninth, and left Skip and Don singing his praises. He picked up right where he left off the following season, saving 39 games last year, and making his first all-star team.

Kolb is not the classic power arm who blows away the opposition. Rather, he has success by hitting spots and having wicked movement on his fastball. If my memory serves correct, the goal of a pitcher is to get outs regardless of style, and I think Dan will be very successful at that in 2005. Kolb is an extreme ground ball pitcher, only allowing ten HR in 177 big league innings. JC and I have spoken at length speculating about his role on this team, and we both feel that he will get first crack at the closer’s job. However, when Roman Colon looks ready for the job, Kolb may have more value to the team as a 7th or 8th inning stopper who can come in and induce the ground ball to get out of a big jam. If Colon can close, Atlanta might be able to maximize the strengths of each pitcher by utilizing Kolb in a situation where the game potentially is on the line, rather than with a safe two or three run lead in the 9th inning. Additionally, he will be a free agent after this season and will likely command a salary above the Braves means on the open market. If Roman Colon or anyone else looks capable of closing, I would imagine Schuerholz would have no problem thanking Danny for his contributions and parting ways with him.

Braves 2005 Preview: Infield

Wilson Betemit
Betemit, once considered the jewel of the Braves system, has failed to live up to expectations. Nevertheless, he is still just 24 years old and had a decent year in Richmond (.278 with 13 HR 24 2B, and 2 3B). While he is no longer considered a future star, he still could make an impact with Atlanta this year. Betemit will be competing for the final utility infielder’s spot with Pete Orr. Because Orr can also play outfield, Betemit is going to need an outstanding performance this spring to make the big club.

Julio Franco
The ageless wonder, Julio had another great year in 2004. He will turn 47 in 2005, but as long as he produces, he will have a place to play in Atlanta. In 2004, he hit .309, with 18 doubles, 3 triples, 6 home runs and 57 RBIs. With runners in scoring position, his average was .347 (33-for-95). He continues to prove that age indeed is just a number. He will continue to get the majority of AB’s against LHP, and will probably have another solid season. It really is a shame he was only given 162 AB’s from 1997-2001; he could be approaching 3000 hits and a spot in the hall of fame had he been given a chance somewhere.

Marcus Giles
Giles was off to a scorching-hot start to his 2004 season, leading all NL second basemen in the first tally of all-star voting. Unfortunately, his season was soon interrupted for 6 weeks due to another random injury. Once he returned from the injury, he did not hit at the same level as before, mainly because his collarbone fracture kept him from lifting weights, and his power was down significantly.

Giles still hit .311 last year, but hit .393 with 14 RBI in April. You could feel that Marcus was going to have a huge 2004, until his injury really set him back. As long as he avoids another freak injury, he should have a great year. Marcus has the ability to be the best hitting second baseman in all of baseball, and this may be the year he proves that.

Rafael Furcal
Fukey had a great season in 2004, marred only by off the field problems with the law. I was there at game two of the NLCS when he hit the walk-off bomb to beat Houston in extra innings…what an exciting ballgame. Rafael plays a solid shortstop, has a cannon for an arm, and is a very good leadoff hitter. He was 29-35 on steals, and scored over 100 runs for the second consecutive season. He has also shown excellent plate discipline the last two years, with a very low 1.24:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Rafael earned a nice raise this off-season, signing a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. With another strong season, he will be in line to earn big bucks on the free agent market after the 2005 campaign.

Pete Orr
Orr came out of nowhere to have as good a season as anyone did in the Atlanta minor league system. His breakout season included a .320 average, 24 steals, 16 doubles, and 10 (yes, ten!) triples. He also only made four errors all season, while Betemit made 16. Throw in his ability to play a competent outfield, and Pete Orr looks like a great utility big leaguer. He is already 25, but is only a year older than Betemit. He is in a battle with Betemit this spring to win the final bench spot, and his superior season last year coupled with his versatility give him the edge in my opinion. Betemit is considered by scouts to have more tools; however, the sabermetrician in me simply cannot ignore the stats Orr put up in Richmond last year. I will take proven production over tools any day of the week.

Adam LaRoche
Adam is a guy who I happen to know personally, and I look for big things from him in 2005. A sore shoulder nagged him for the entire first half, and his swing was weak as a result. However, once his shoulder had time to heal after the break, his numbers recovered nicely. His 10 HR, 15 2B and .302 batting average left his second half OPS at a very respectable .943, almost 250 points higher than his first half OPS of .648. He also hit the game tying double off the unhittable Brad Lidge in game two, and a mammoth bomb to put Atlanta on top in game four during the NLCS.

Adam was always compared to Mark Grace coming up through the minors, and he put up Grace-like numbers in 2004- even as a rookie playing with an undisclosed injury for half of the season. While Julio Franco continues to amaze, it is safe to say that he will not play forever (though I wouldn’t rule it out!). Bobby needs to slowly give Adam more AB’s against LHP this season to ease the adjustment when he takes over full time for Julio. He isn’t likely to ever have a 30-40 HR season, but is a good bet for a nice stretch of .300-20-90 seasons. If Adam continues this season to hit the way he did in the second half last year, this year may be the first in a long run of very good seasons.

Chipper Jones
Obviously, 2004 was not Chipper’s best year. His numbers were down in almost every category last year, though his 30 HR were up from his 2002 and 2003 numbers. His batting average, OPB, and OPS were all down significantly from his prior years and his career averages. Throughout the first half of the season, he was in and out of the lineup and never really was able to find a groove at the plate. The amount of sprinting, stopping, and starting quickly that is required in the outfield certainly was not good for his injured hamstring. As a result, the Braves moved him back to third, and he responded by playing excellent defense and hitting .337 with 11 HR in August.

Chipper will turn 35 this year, and is still scheduled to make a ridiculous amount of money over the next several years. However, being the consummate team player, he had no qualms with offering to restructure his contract to allow the team more payroll flexibility in their pursuit of a long-term deal for Tim Hudson and other potential free agents. He is at the tail end of his prime years, and needs a strong 2005 to prove that last year was just an aberration based on injuries. I believe Chipper indeed will rebound with a strong season this year, and return to his 30+ HR and 100+ RBI years of years past.

Andy Marte
Marte is one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball, and is very close to graduating from prospect to big leaguer. The only problem facing Atlanta is finding him a place to play. He led the organization in homeruns with 23, and showed a good eye, walking 58 times. Marte has the tools to please the scouting crowd, and the track record and stats to please the sabermetric crowd. He is a big time prospect who looks like a future Major League star.

Unfortunately, in the short term, it is not clear where he will be playing. His defense is too good for him to be moved to the outfield, yet Chipper’s hamstring is not strong enough for him to play outfield. Essentially, the Braves are faced with a problem where they have two great third basemen, neither of whom can be moved to the outfield, where they have a weakness. In conversations with Rob Neyer of ESPN, he expressed his opinion that we will see Chipper playing first base when Marte is ready. This leaves a tough decision of what to do with LaRoche, and Rob foresees him being traded for outfield or pitching, or even possibly a shortstop to replace Furcal next year. It will certainly be interesting to see how things play out, and the best thing we can do as fans is to just trust Schuerholz to make the right decision…he usually does.

Nick Green
(Written before Green was traded to Tampa Bay)
Thrust into the spotlight following the injury of Marcus Giles, Greenie filled in admirably with the bat and the glove. He was leading the International League in batting with a .377 average when he was called up, and hit .273 through 249 at bats in the big leagues. He only hit three homeruns, but one was a dramatic three-run jack to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th against Montreal.

With Giles returning to full strength, Green will be a relegated to reserve status this year. He proved that he can be a solid major league 2nd baseman last year, and will be a valuable member of the team coming off the bench in 2005.

Luis Hernandez
Hernandez was a surprising addition to the 40-man, as 2004 was his first good season with the bat. However his defense is amazing, and .272 is ample for a SS who has a great arm and glove. He is quick in the infield, but is not a threat to run (4-10 SB). He is listed at only 5’10” 140, but again, size is not an issue for a shortstop. He plays the same position as Pena and is a level behind him, but is only 20 years old. Luis figures to play everyday in Mississippi this year, and hopes to gain strength and increase his offensive production. If he handles AA pitching while continuing to amaze at short, will be a serious candidate for the 2006 shortstop job if Furcal leaves for free-agency.

Scott Thorman
Thorman is a former first round pick, who has some serious raw power. However, that tool has not translated into consistent numbers. He had a couple good years, but followed them with a bad year. In four years of pro ball, he has had the following batting averages: .227, .294, .243, and .299. Scouts say he has the best pure power in the Braves system. He should open up 2005 in AA and needs a good season to maintain prospect status.

Tony Pena Jr.
Pena played everyday in Greenville in 2004, and put together a solid season. His .255 average was not great, but his peripheral numbers were solid. His 11 HR, 22 2B, and 25-38 SB show signs that he can hit big league pitching. This spring it will be very interesting to see how Pena fares against the big league arms. Like Hernandez, his fate with the organization is heavily dependent on the outcome of Furcal’s free agency. However, if Pena does not develop more plate discipline, he might have a hard time hitting big league pitching. Walking just 16 times, compared to 108 strikeouts in 495 AB is simply not acceptable. If Pena has one goal in 2005, it should be to cut down on the strikeouts and increase the walks. History shows that the guys who have good plate discipline in the minors translate to better big league hitters than those who do not. Major League pitchers have such good stuff that free-swinging minor leaguers usually turn into strikeout machines in the majors.

Johnny Estrada
Johnny burst onto the scene last year by making the All-Star team, had the highest batting average on the Braves, and being chosen for the team of MLB stars to tour Japan this off-season. Not a bad first year for the guy who was a “throw-in” in the Kevin Millwood trade. He finished the season batting .337 with RISP and .314 overall. His defense could be improved, as nine errors are quite high for a catcher, but if he continues to hit as he did in 2004, the occasional defensive miscue can be overlooked.

Estrada established himself as a very good Major League player last year; he now must prove that last year was not a fluke. He only struck out 66 times in 462 at bats, and while only hitting nine homeruns, did hit 36 doubles to lead the team. His offensive output is rare for a catcher, which makes him all the more valuable to Atlanta. If Johnny has another strong season this year, he may be mentioned alongside Jorge Posada and Pudge Rodriguez when talking about the best hitting catchers in baseball.

Eddie Perez
There isn’t too much to say about Eddie that we don’t already know. He calls a good game, blocks the ball well and throws well. He is a great backup catcher and sub when Estrada needs an off day. He is also a valuable presence in the clubhouse, as he has been known to mentor many of the younger Latin players and help ease their transition to the glitz and glamour of the Major Leagues. While he is not still in the bigs for his offense, he actually finished the season strongly last year, hitting all three of his homeruns and batting .314 during August and September. He figures to hold down the same role this year as he did last year, and should perform at roughly the same level.

Braves 2005 Preview: Outfield

Kelly Johnson
Johnson is a converted shortstop who had an excellent
bat for a SS, but saw his prospect status fall slightly after being
moved to the outfield. He tied for Southern League lead last year
with 35 2B, while ranking 2nd in extra-base hits (54), and tying for
5th in hits (135). KJ had a very solid 2004, but is not mentioned
with the Martes and Francoeurs when talking about Atlanta’s OF
prospects. However, Kelly was a first round pick and has hit well
at every level in his minor league career. In fact, Mark Bowman
recently reported in his Braves mailbag that Kelly had been
impressing Bobby with the bat this spring. He figures to play
everyday in Richmond this year, and compete for playing time in
2006.

Brian Jordan
Brian had some great years in Atlanta, carrying them at
times during the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Before the 2002 season the
Braves did an excellent job of exploiting the market on baseball
players, “selling” him at his highest value in the trade with LA
that brought Gary Sheffield to Atlanta. Brian was a fan favorite in
Atlanta and gave the Braves several very productive years. However,
that was three years ago, and he will be 38 by opening day. His
numbers have decreased as his injuries have increased in each of the
last three seasons. The physical toll his body took playing three
years in the NFL looks to be showing as Brian gets older. I really
do hope he has a healthy and productive 2005 season; however, I just
don’t see it happening. If he cannot shake the injuries and get off
to a hot start, we may see Langerhans playing full-time in left, or
even the much-awaited debut of Andy Marte.

Raul Mondesi
Mondesi is pretty much a lock to be the opening day
starter in right field. Then again, whether he is still there in
September remains to be seen. Everyone knows that Mondesi was
indeed a clubhouse cancer his last few seasons, and this horse has
been beaten to death this winter. His behavior last year in
Pittsburgh does not mean that he will behave similarly in Atlanta.
Bobby and Schuerholz have a history of taking a chance on guys who
everyone else has deemed “washed up” and finding a way to get a few
more productive years out of them. Mike Devereaux and Luis Polonia
in 1995 come to mind regarding key outfield reclamation projects.
Those who do not change their ways do not last long, as we saw in
Bobby Bonilla and Ken Caminiti.

The fact is, if Mondesi plays well he will stay in Atlanta and be
rewarded. If he does not perform, or returns to his days as a
cancer, he will be released or traded. Does Raul want to work hard,
be humbled, and work towards a team goal, or does he want to loaf,
bring down his teammates, and focus on individual goals? His
performance in 2005 will hinge heavily on the answer to this
question, of which neither you nor I know the answer.

Andruw Jones
Andruw likes to go after the first pitch and chases
some balls in the dirt, and those are big reasons why he hasn’t been
able to hit .300 consistently. Nevertheless, it’s hard to say
anything bad about a guy who is just 27 but has already hit 250
career home runs. We can look for Andruw to hit roughly .270 with 30
HR and 100 RBI once again in 2005. Oh and by the way, he has won
the last seven gold glove awards in CF.

This off-season all everyone heard was how great Carlos Beltran is,
and he did have a scintillating post-season. However, his career
stats are eerily similar to those of Andruw Jones, and Andruw hit
the ball just as well as Beltran did in the NLDS. Let us not forget
that Andruw was 10-19 (.526) with 2 HR and two doubles in the five
games against Houston. Andruw’s 162 game averages over 9 seasons of
.268-31-96 are not too far from Beltran’s .287-27-104 line over the
past seven seasons. There is an inexplicably large contingent of
Braves fans pushing for Andruw to be traded, saying he is overpaid.
Beltran received a seven year, $119 million deal from the Mets,
averaging out to $17 million a year, while Andruw’s $75 million,
6-year deal averages to just $12.5 million. Yes this is a lot of
money, but in my opinion, Andruw’s contract is reasonably priced for
his offensive consistency and defensive wizardry. Atlanta will not
find a comparable player for the same kind of money on the free
agent market, that’s for sure.

Billy McCarthy
McCarthy, a former Rutgers OF, killed the ball in
Richmond after a mid-season move from Greenville. He hit .354 with a
.946 OPS at Richmond. For the season as a whole, he hit .324 with
15 homers. At 6-feet-2, 200 pounds he is a projectable
major-leaguer. However, he has one more year of minor-league
options available, and would really have to impress this spring to
make the big club. I have talked to several of his teammates, and
they all say one thing- the guy can flat out hit.

Ryan Langerhans
2004 was a banner year for “Langy”. Ryan
established career highs in batting average (.298), 2B (34), HR
(20), RBI (72), R (103), and BB (70). On top of this, he is an
excellent defensive outfielder with a plus arm. Remember, he was
held in much higher regard that Charles Thomas, prior to Thomas’
breakout 2004 campaign. Langy was recently signed to a MLB contract
at the league minimum, ensuring his place in Atlanta for 2005.
Given the Braves history of breaking in rookies slowly, Bobby Cox
would ideally like to platoon the left-handed hitting Langerhans
with the right-handed hitting Brian Jordan in left field. However,
if Jordan fails to produce I think Ryan is good enough to produce
better than replacement level numbers in 2005.

Onil Joseph
Playing in historically pitcher-friendly Myrtle Beach,
Joseph posted excellent numbers in 2004. His .272 average and 32-42
stolen base rate shot him up the list of Braves prospects. I’m not
sure how much stock can be put into his average though, as only 16
of his 115 hits went for extra bases. He is not a power hitter by
trade, but a speed guy without much pop should be able to leg out
the occasional double or triple, something he did not do in 2004.
Also, if his age is correct, he was still 22 playing in A ball, and
is older than Francoeur and almost exactly the same age as Kelly
Johnson (Joseph is 10 days older). Johnson has already proven that
he can hit AA pitching, something Onil will have to prove this year
in Mississippi if he is to continue to rise in the Atlanta system.

Braves 2005 Preview

I’m running a little behind on this, but I wanted to let you know that I am going to have a guest author post a preview of the Braves 40-man roster for 2005. James Hall is a student of mine at Sewanee who is currently taking Rob Neyer’s online GM course. James is a senior starting pitcher for the Division III Sewanee Tigers. He’s got a 6.9 ERA in 27 IP, but his FIP ERA is 3.67. No wonder James is such a big fan of DIPS. Update: James tells me his ERA stats are old, and heavily influenced by one very bad game. His correct ERA is 5.34, and you can verify this here.

Anyway, I want to thank James for doing this preview. I will release it in three parts: Infielders, Outfielders, and Pitchers. His analysis will be short a player or two, because he wrote it up several weeks ago and things have changed. Chalk this up to my tardiness, not slacking by James.

Chass on the Braves Dynasty

Murray Chass has a nice piece on the Braves 13-year run as division champion. He neglects to mention the role of Leo Mazzone, but Braves fans should like it anyway.

Comparing Sosa to Cruz

There has been a lot of rumbling among Braves fans about the similarities between Juan Cruz and Jorge Sosa. Both guys are tall, skinny, and Dominican right-handers who have been praised for their potential. The problem is, that’s where the similarity ends. These pitchers are quite different and Braves fans should not expect from Sosa what they got from Juan Cruz. Here is a comparison of both players’ major league stats.

Juan Cruz							
Year	Age	ERA	IP	HR9	BB9	K9	FIP
2001	20	3.22	44.67	0.81	3.43	7.86	3.77
2002	21	3.98	97.33	1.02	5.46	7.49	4.83
2003	22	6.05	61	1.03	4.13	9.59	3.93
2004	23	2.75	72	0.88	3.75	8.75	3.78
Car.	21.5	3.99	68	0.95	4.39	8.35	4.18
Jorge Sosa							
Year	Age	ERA	IP	HR9	BB9	K9	FIP
2002	24	5.53	99.33	1.45	4.89	4.35	5.96
2003	25	4.62	128.67	0.98	4.2	5.04	4.90
2004	26	5.53	99.33	1.54	4.89	8.52	5.16
Car.	25	5.17	109	1.29	4.62	5.88	5.30

Ccmp	16.28%	29.57%	60.29%	35.79%	5.24%	-29.58%	26.71%


The last row compares Sosa’s career average numbers in terms of the percent difference from Juan Cruz. The result: Sosa is 16% older (actually I believe Sosa just turned 28 this week, Baseball Cube and Baseball-Reference differ on his age), with an ERA 30% higher, gives up 36% more home runs, walks 5% more batters, and strikes out 30% fewer batters. On a positive note, Sosa has thrown 60% more innings a year, but he played for the Devil Rays. A good team would never let him pitch so many innings. But, let’s say Cruz and Sosa are comparable. Then, what can we say expect from Sosa in 2005 if he experiences the same improvement under Mazzone that Cruz did?

The Pitcher	HR9	BB9	K9	FIP
Cruz Change	-14.56%	-9.20%	-8.76%	-3.98%
Sosa Change	-0.22	-0.45	-0.75	-0.21
2005 Sosa	1.32	4.44	7.77	4.96

I did not do straight ERA since Sosa’s 2003 ERA was so far out of whack with his FIP. The bottom line is that if Sosa does get better (and I hope he does), it’s not going to be because of something he has in common with Juan Cruz.

Where SSPS Goes Wrong with AVG

I did this the other day, but the changeover to the new software slowed me down. I’ve gathered a list of hitters along with their 2004 SSPS predicted and actual averages. I present the top 25 overachievers (actual average exceeding the predicted average) and top-25 underachievers (predicted average exceeds actual average). I was trying to find some underlying cause of the “Ichiro problem” so I list some of the factors, along with their Z-scores, that I think may be associated with the mis-predictions. The factors are the AVG-to-OBP ratio and speed (I use the average of 5 speed scores presented here). I also wanted to see how the 2005 prediction changed in response to the 2004 performance, which I call “bounce back.” So what are the trends? Let’s look at the overachievers first.

Top-25 Overachievers

Rank Name Residual 2004 AVG 2004 Pred 2005 Pred Bounce Back AVG/OBP Z-Score of AVG/OBP Speed Score Z-Score of Speed Score
1 Ichiro Suzuki 0.0866 0.372 0.286 0.292 0.007 0.898 1.715 6.130 1.121
2 Adrian Beltre 0.0671 0.334 0.267 0.301 0.033 0.862 1.112 3.331 -0.575
3 Melvin Mora 0.0635 0.340 0.277 0.282 0.005 0.811 0.273 4.294 0.008
4 Ivan Rodriguez 0.0614 0.334 0.273 0.275 0.002 0.873 1.298 3.455 -0.500
5 Carlos Guillen 0.0425 0.318 0.275 0.280 0.005 0.838 0.723 6.770 1.509
6 Sean Casey 0.0407 0.324 0.283 0.301 0.018 0.851 0.933 3.724 -0.337
7 Mark Loretta 0.0391 0.335 0.296 0.310 0.013 0.858 1.044 4.342 0.038
8 Carlos Lee 0.0373 0.305 0.267 0.272 0.005 0.832 0.609 4.397 0.071
9 Javy Lopez 0.0353 0.316 0.281 0.271 -0.009 0.854 0.991 2.566 -1.039
10 Jack Wilson 0.0331 0.308 0.275 0.287 0.012 0.919 2.075 5.903 0.984
11 Juan Pierre 0.0319 0.326 0.294 0.301 0.007 0.872 1.283 7.382 1.880
12 Barry Bonds 0.0317 0.362 0.330 0.356 0.026 0.594 -3.351 4.797 0.314
13 Vladimir Guerrero 0.0307 0.337 0.306 0.301 -0.005 0.860 1.091 4.761 0.291
14 Jason Kendall 0.0290 0.319 0.290 0.294 0.005 0.799 0.075 4.053 -0.138
15 Lance Berkman 0.0290 0.316 0.287 0.302 0.015 0.703 -1.534 4.117 -0.099
16 Mike Young 0.0270 0.313 0.286 0.293 0.007 0.886 1.523 6.351 1.255
17 Scott Rolen 0.0265 0.314 0.288 0.300 0.013 0.768 -0.448 4.951 0.407
18 Miguel Tejada 0.0263 0.311 0.285 0.287 0.002 0.864 1.142 3.274 -0.609
19 Craig Monroe 0.0259 0.293 0.267 0.275 0.007 0.870 1.252 4.144 -0.083
20 Erubiel Durazo 0.0238 0.321 0.297 0.296 -0.001 0.810 0.251 3.655 -0.379
21 Carl Crawford 0.0232 0.296 0.272 0.282 0.010 0.893 1.638 10.719 3.902
22 Mark Kotsay 0.0232 0.314 0.290 0.303 0.012 0.848 0.882 4.540 0.158
23 Jim Edmonds 0.0224 0.301 0.279 0.288 0.009 0.720 -1.249 5.193 0.553
24 Raul Ibanez 0.0209 0.304 0.283 0.281 -0.002 0.860 1.079 2.924 -0.822
25 Cesar Izturis 0.0199 0.288 0.268 0.283 0.015 0.874 1.316 6.998 1.647

The most obvious similarity among these players is for AVG/OBP, which is something many people have noticed. While Bonds, Berkman, and Edmonds made the list, most of the guys are high AVG/OBP hitters. Interestingly enough, when I threw this variable into some regressions it did not have any impact on the prediction. I thought speed might matter, because speedy baserunners might be able to get on base on balls in play that would lead to outs for most players, but there does not seem to be much of a trend with this. Now, let’s look at the underachievers.

Top-25 Underachievers

Rank Name Residual 2004 AVG 2004 Pred 2005 Pred Bounce Back AVG/OBP Z-Score of AVG/OBP Speed Score Z-Score of Speed Score
1 Scott Spiezio -0.0664 0.215 0.282 0.270 -0.012 0.747 -0.799 4.546 0.161
2 Jason Phillips -0.0609 0.218 0.279 0.275 -0.004 0.733 -1.027 1.848 -1.474
3 Desi Relaford -0.0589 0.221 0.280 0.275 -0.005 0.747 -0.794 3.550 -0.443
4 Chipper Jones -0.0461 0.248 0.294 0.289 -0.005 0.686 -1.823 2.486 -1.087
5 Alex Gonzalez -0.0396 0.232 0.271 0.269 -0.002 0.858 1.047 3.609 -0.406
6 Jody Gerut -0.0386 0.252 0.290 0.288 -0.002 0.753 -0.695 5.917 0.992
7 Jay Payton -0.0366 0.260 0.296 0.293 -0.003 0.797 0.028 4.098 -0.110
8 Jose Valentin -0.0333 0.216 0.249 0.234 -0.015 0.751 -0.739 5.687 0.853
9 Scott Podsednik -0.0321 0.244 0.276 0.273 -0.003 0.779 -0.272 7.987 2.247
10 Alex Cintron -0.0319 0.262 0.294 0.283 -0.011 0.871 1.272 4.562 0.171
11 Jose Cruz -0.0317 0.242 0.274 0.269 -0.005 0.728 -1.121 6.239 1.187
12 Luis Gonzalez -0.0304 0.259 0.289 0.286 -0.003 0.694 -1.681 4.673 0.238
13 Eric Chavez -0.0282 0.276 0.304 0.306 0.002 0.695 -1.668 2.063 -1.344
14 Bret Boone -0.0279 0.251 0.279 0.264 -0.015 0.792 -0.042 3.101 -0.715
15 Toby Hall -0.0257 0.255 0.281 0.277 -0.004 0.850 0.914 0.762 -2.132
16 Joe Crede -0.0253 0.239 0.264 0.259 -0.005 0.799 0.073 2.635 -0.997
17 Bernie Williams -0.0253 0.262 0.287 0.282 -0.005 0.728 -1.119 2.355 -1.167
18 Corey Koskie -0.0251 0.251 0.276 0.272 -0.004 0.734 -1.017 5.231 0.577
19 Mike Cameron -0.0249 0.231 0.256 0.258 0.002 0.725 -1.171 5.766 0.900
20 Bobby Higginson -0.0242 0.246 0.270 0.268 -0.002 0.695 -1.673 4.021 -0.157
21 Eric Hinske -0.0222 0.246 0.268 0.269 0.002 0.786 -0.142 4.216 -0.039
22 Angel Berroa -0.0221 0.262 0.284 0.276 -0.007 0.850 0.920 6.445 1.312
23 A.J. Pierzynski -0.0221 0.272 0.294 0.303 0.010 0.852 0.953 1.232 -1.847
24 Vinny Castilla -0.0219 0.271 0.293 0.301 0.008 0.817 0.364 2.207 -1.256
25 Carlos Pena -0.0218 0.241 0.263 0.263 0.000 0.713 -1.362 5.317 0.628

There are a lot of guys here with lower AVG/OBPs, but the trend is not as strong as it was for the overachievers. Speed doesn’t seem to be much of a factor here, either. The good news for the system is that in 2005 the projections seem to be moving in the opposite directions.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the system. Some guys are hard to predict and may have combinations of unique skills that are difficult to quantify. I’m fine dealing with that. The next step is to move on to minor league predictions. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

Levitt on Beane Again

Steven Levitt has started blogging over at Freakonomics. Interestingly, one of the first things he’s blogged about is a statement that he made about Moneyball. About a year ago Levitt wrote, “If you look at all the stats they say are so important, the A’s are totally average! There’s very little evidence Billy Beane [the club's general manager] is doing something right.” (Here were my thoughts on the his statement at the time.) In this recent post he further explains what he meant.

The simple point I was making is that the A’s don’t win for the reasons Moneyball implied, i.e that they put a bunch of misfit looking characters on the field who have out of this world on base percentages which somehow leads them to manufacture runs without paying high salaries. The reason the A’s win, year after year, is because they have better pitchers than anyone else.

And in fact, Levitt has a good point. For all the stressing of the importance of OBP in the book, the A’s just were not so hot in this area. I think it’s clear that Moneyball was about a lot more than OBP — see the chapter on Chad Bradford and the discussion of defense — but few people have made Levitt’s point, and Lewis really did hype the OBP stuff. And this paper (by Hakes and Sauer) seems to do a good job showing that the OBP market inefficiency the A’s were exploiting at the time Michael Lewis was writing has evaporated and is now gone. So, the fact that the A’s haven’t been following their own advise on offense, doesn’t really disprove much. OBP is now pricey, so the A’s are looking for and finding new inefficiencies.

Levitt views Beane’s latest business venture as Billy seeing the truth (as Levitt sees it) about his past and the future. Just as the A’s traded away two-thirds of the big three, Beane is acting as though he expects something bad to happen.

Just as the A’s are about to head south, he negotiates a lucrative contract extension and becomes the first baseball GM to get an ownership share (but he doesn’t have any liability for losses, only sharing in the gains!).

That is genius.

I think Beane & Co. are still on board with trying to win more with less, just like everyone else. This makes them a little less special than stat-heads would like to think, but I still think they have some unique methods for doing so that work better than other teams. Such methods led them to draft the big-3 in the first place. Also, I’m not surprised Beane would prefer an ownership share with little risk, and I don’t think that’s much evidence for Beane seeing the end is near. I have fire insurance, but I don’t think my house is going to burn down. Billy Beane is just a typical risk averse investor. Sure, he could have probably gotten an additional share of the team’s success if he risked a little more, but the returns to the success may not be enough to offset the potential losses. He values the potential financial loss of what he has more than the potential gains from the acquisition than if he succeeds. What if Chavez, Zito, and Harden all suffer unforeseen career-ending injuries? Beane would take quite a hit. I’m sure many individuals, even if they expect nothing to go wrong, would also opt in for lower stakes.

But let’s get back to the big-3. Looking at the SPSS, let’s look at the predicted ERAs of the A’s s top four starters from last year.

Name    2004    2005
Harden 3.99 4.15
Hudson 3.53 4.51
Mulder 4.43 4.35
Zito 4.48 4.14

Hudson and Mulder have the highest projected ERAs of the bunch for 2005. Zito, who had the highest 2004 ERA is projected to have the lowest ERA in 2005, with Harden predicted to do about the same. The lowest 2004 ERA belonged to Hudson (oh no!). So, Billy holds on the better pitchers and trades the ones who are predicted to do worse. Now, it my be (in fact it’s quite likely) that by Beane’s projections are different from mine, but it is certainly worth noting that Beane is jettisoning guys who performed worse via ERA projections based heavily on DIPS.

Addendum: Steven Levitt responds to his critics and throws down the gauntlet.

In the spirit of data, the skeptics amongst you should tell me how many games the A’s need to win this year or over the next five years so that they would feel that Moneyball is validated. My own view is that if the A’s win 81 games a year for the next five years, it is more likely that Beane was lucky than good. If they win 97 a year, I’ll happily concede that Beane is the best. Even an average of 90 games
a year and I will acknowledge he is brilliant.

I agree. There needs to be standard, and he’s put forth a very simple and fair one. It’s easy to support Billy now, but maybe not in a few years. I think Beane will succeed, but that’s just my opinion. If he doesn’t do it, I’ll gladly concede that I was wrong. Levitt also points out that the “poor” A’s aren’t so poor.

Oakland used to be a low budget team ($30 million in 2000),
but not anymore. Their payroll in 2004 was above the median
in the American League….So let’s not feel so sorry for them in their pursuit of 82 wins this year.

But this is the best part.

And for all the talk about me not knowing anything about sabermetrics
(I actually do know quite a bit…I will debunk some sabermetric ideas in later
posts if people are interested)

I’m dying to see what he has to say. I think the biggest weakness of the sabermetric community is that it has formed its own set of core “beliefs” that are backed up by poorly done empirical work. I’m not going to point fingers, but I have seen a lot of stuff that is just done wrong. A true system of peer review is very much needed in the sabermetric community. Hopefully, Levitt can shake things up a bit. I think one of the weakest areas of understanding among sabermetricians is aging. Just playing around with the data, it seems to me that players do seem to peak a little later than the gold-standard of 27. I’m not saying this is true, but I certainly have a strong feeling about it. Maybe I need to get back on that.