Archive for June, 2005

What Does AJ Have to Do?

Talk about strange interpretations. Apparently, not even Andruw Jones’s hot 2005 can convince his manager that he’s best as a dead-pull hitter.

AJ spraying them everywhere: Jones had hit 12 homers in his previous 17 games, entering Wednesday. While very impressive, that surge, which gave him a Major League-leading 24 homers, might not have impressed Cox as much as the fact that his Gold Glove outfielder has been going the opposite way recently.

In the first two games of this week’s series against the Marlins, Jones recorded three hits that went into right field. Looking at his spray chart, just four of the 41 hits he’s recorded at Turner Field this year have gone right of center and none of them to the right of right-center field.

“He didn’t just flip those out there,” Cox said. “He hit those nice. That shows you how disciplined he is right now.”

I think it’s great that Andruw gets hits to the opposite field, but that’s not what he needs to be trying to do. As I showed — or rather the data showed — Andruw is much more successful when he pulls the ball.

The Braves Graduates

Over at Baseball Analysts, Bryan Smith reviews the top-20 former prospects who are making major contributions to their teams right now. Kyle Davies is at the top of the list, with Kelly Jonson at 14. Here’s a preview of what he has to say about each.

1. Kyle Davies (ATL): 4.75 ERA in 41.2 IP- Dan Meyer, at this point, is probably trying to get back to playing long toss. And there isn’t anything long about Jose Capellan’s outings, as he was most recently moved to the bullpen. That leaves Kyle Davies atop the 2004 Braves pitching prospect trio, where before the season, many outlets had him at the bottom. This is just another example of why the Braves are smarter than us all, and why having faith in their braintrust is always a smart idea. …

14. Kelly Johnson (ATL): .755 OPS in 77 AB- A one-time shortstop prospect, Johnson found himself this year (like Meyer, Espinosa, Montanez, etc) in the International League as an outfielder. Unlike the other guys mentioned, Johnson showed big-time power in AAA, and has replaced Raul Mondesi in the everyday lineup. It was a genius move for the Braves to stick with Johnson even after an awful debut…

And there’s plenty more good stuff there, so check it out.

In my opinion, Davies is getting a rather rude greeting to the big leagues. Injuries really forced him into the rotation when he wasn’t quite ready. He’s responded well, and I hope he doesn’t let the struggles get to him. If the rest of the rotation gets healthy and Davies is still pitching well, it would be a good time to move Horacio Ramirez.

Johnson has really impressed me with his plate discipline. So far, he’s got walk-rate of 16.5% and a BB/K of 1.33. That’s about about what Chipper puts up, but Kelly’s not a switch hitter and plays against lefties. Very impressive. If he develops even more power as he gets older (as he should), look out. He could be JD Drew good.

The Myth of Andruw Jones and “the Other Way”

Well, I’m happy to see Andruw Jones having phenomenal year so far (AVE/OBP/SLG = .278/.350/.597). It’s hard to believe that earlier in the year he was considered to be slumping. This just shows the dangers of paying attention to short-run trends and projecting them over long periods of time. There was a time when Andruw went hitting 0-28, now he’s hit 12 homers in his past 15 games.

It’s true. Fans were calling for his head and demanding he be benched. “Why is he swinging at that outside slider? He needs to hit the ball ‘the other way’ and stop trying to pull everything.” Lo and behold, here we are in the midst of an Andruw hot-streak and everyone thinks he’s finally responding to their advice. The Braves announcers aren’t helping either.

MLB.com now offers this great service. It provides a hit chart for most players in every field they’ve played in. So, I looked at Andruw’s 2004 and 2005 in Turner Field. Red = out, Black=hit, Blue = home run.

2004 Andruw Jones
AJ's 2004 in Turner Field

2005 Andruw Jones
AJ's 2005 in Turner Field

If anything, he’s pulling the ball more this year than he did last year. And when he goes the other way, he’s more likely to make an out than when he doesn’t. He’s yet to have a single hit to right field in Turner Field in 2005. The thing is, AJ hasn’t really made any meaningful adjustments during this year to make him hot or cold. He’s just been experiencing some ups and downs like he does every year. Overall, he’s had more ups than downs, and he’s become a darn good pull hitter.

Maybe his legs are a little wider and he’s staying on the ball better this year. But really, it’s not like he’s Brian Roberts. Andruw has always been good, just under-appreciated. He’s 28 and he should be expected to be having a good season like this. I doubt he’ll hit 60 HRs, but I think he’s on track for a good season. I should mention that John Dewan called it.

I want to make it clear that Andruw’s success does not involve going the other way, as so many of his critics have suggested he do. If anything he’s doing what I suggested a year ago.

Hitting to the opposite field may work for 50 year-old first basemen who want to play until they drop (I still love you Julio!), but it’s not what a 27 year-old with tons of power needs to be doing. Are you going to ask Jim Thome or Barry Bonds to go the other way? No. Certainly, Andruw is not in their category as a hitter yet, but clearly slapping the ball to the off-field is not the key Andruw needs to becoming a 40+ HR power-hitter.

I’m not saying he took my advice or listened to me (I’m not that pompous). The important thing is that he listened to himself. He’s taken what others have said and filtered it properly. Terry Pendleton and Bobby Cox probably deserve some credit as well, but I think AJ deserves the most. He’s caught more undeserved hell than anyone on the team, so it’s time for some praise even if it’s a little excessive. You’ve earned it Andruw, smile! :)

Addendum: This post was inspired by and dedicated to Fiona May who was born last night. Mother, baby, and father (Braves fan Kyle) are doing well. Hang in there guys!

Brian Gunn: Today’s DH

Brian Gunn is DHing over at the Baseball Analysts today. It’s a fantastic autobiographical essay. Check it out.

It seems that most of the sabermetric community had some dash of Bill James or Strat-O-Matic as a child that just makes me jealous. I wasn’t so fortunate as to stumble upon sabermetrics until a few years ago. After Doug Drinen introduced me to the world I said, “If I had found Bill James when I was 12, it would have significantly changed my life.” In one sense, I guess this is a good thing, because I’m quite happy with my life. But in terms of understanding the intricacies of baseball, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Following Francoeur

I just added a link to a relatively new site run by Joe Hamrahi, Baseball Digest Daily. BDD’s been around for a while, and I’ve read interesting stories on the site from time-to-time, but I never quite got in the habit of reading it. Joe has just given Braves fans a new reason to check in. Jeff Francoeur is going to start publishing a weekly diary on the site. So, keep the site bookmarked if this interests you. Joe kicks things off by writing about his trip to Pearl, MS to see the Mississippi Braves.

I’ve Got a Feeling

The Braves are in a tough situation.

  • Three of the five opening day starters are on the DL. Hudson should come back shortly, Thomson seems to be progressing nicely but will be out through the All-Star break, and Hampton…I think he’s done for the year. Mystery injuries normally don’t signal a quick resolution.
  • Chipper Jones still has at least another month in the boot, and it’s not clear that the treatment will work.
  • The bullpen has not been good lately.
  • Brian Jordan has been awful.
  • The division race is tight.

The Braves need arms and possibly another bat in the outfield (although Langerhans and Johnson might yet prove to be acceptable full-time corners). Couple this with the fact that the Braves have a logjam in the infield. Furcal, Marte, Betemit, and Giles are having to rotate to create playing time for all the players who need or expect to get a lot of ABs. The obvious solution is to trade one of these guys (and possibly Johnson or Langerhans if an outfielder came back in a deal) for some pitching.

Everyone wants to trade Furcal (I’d be for it), but the problem is that I’m not sure what the Braves could get for him. He’s making nearly $6 million, in the midst of a horrible season (.221/.274 /.346), and he’ll only be a one-season rental because he’ll be a free agent at the end of the year. And because Furcal is a free agent, the Braves certainly don’t want to trade Betemit (who’s suddenly playing up to his top-prospect status). So…here’s what my felling is.

I think there is a decent chance that Braves may trade Marcus Giles. I like Giles, and I would hate to see him leave; but, if the Braves want to acquire a good pitcher, they will have to give up something good. Here’s why I think Giles is the most likely candidate to be moved.

  • Giles’s value is pretty high. He’s young, arbitration eligible for two more years (I think it’s two), and is a pretty darn good player to have at second base.
  • Moving Giles would give Betemit the ABs he’s earned and free up some room in the budget.
  • Another thing about Giles is that he doesn’t seem to have regained (or maybe he never really had) the power he showed in 2003 (Iso-Power = .148 compared to his 2003 Iso-power =.211). His PrOPS also show he’s actually played a little worse than his stats (PrOPS = .722 vs. OPS = .769).

Anyway, it’s just a feeling. I really wish Furcal was having a good season, because the Braves can finally afford to move him and the market for shortstops is through the roof. There is also possibility that there is a team out there willing to take him just to ink him to a long-term deal for a discount while his output is low.

Also, it will be interesting to see what happens when Chipper comes back. If Marte is playing the way he’s played so far, he’ll just go to Richmond. However, if he turns it on, Adam LaRoche is going to be on the hot-seat. If Marte and Chipper are both going to be part of the Braves for the next few years, Chipper is going to play first base.

(Thanks Aaron for the correction. :) )

The DH and Hit Batters: One Last Time

Doug Drinen and I have finished the last (we hope) rewrite of our play-by-play study of hit batters. After presenting the previous version of the paper at Clemson last fall, the audience convinced me that the whole debate over the role of the DH in causing hit batters has little to do with moral hazard. It is a possibility, and I’ve thought about it so much that I think that there probably is some moral hazard involved, it’s just too hard to tease out of the data. So, here it is. If you’ve read the previous study, I see little reason to read this one unless you are extremely interested in the topic.

Crime and Punishment in Major League Baseball: The Case of the Designated Hitter and Hit Batters

Scout’s Honor: A Review

As I promised back in February, I have reviewed the anti-Moneyball themed Scout’s Honor: The Bravest Way To Build a Winning Team by Bill Shanks. You can read it over at The Hardball Times. Here’s a preview.

The Braves may have developed their on-field success in a way that was different from the A’s, but this does not prove that the Moneyball philosophy is flawed. In fact, quite the opposite is true. That a careful understanding and use of empirical methods based on sound statistical principles employed by a few intelligent men can achieve success similar to a very large organization of traditional scouts is proof of success, not failure. The success of the Braves is something Beane wanted to emulate, but it wasn’t feasible given the constraints imposed by his bosses. Beane had to find a way to win with less, and he did.

The A’s still use scouts; they just use fewer of them and may use them in different ways. This is something that is also clearly stated in Moneyball. The sabermetric method that the A’s employ is simply a new technology no different from the radar gun carried by the scouts Shanks loves so dearly. And just as the Luddites wished to destroy a new technology that threatened their livelihood, scouts have reason to feel threatened by the new knowledge brought forth by sabermetrics. Moneyball is not the fad that Shanks claims but a new technology. It’s superior to the old methods in some areas, but not all. It’s not going away. And while traditional scouting methods are an old part of the game, the process of technological innovation (sometimes known as creative destruction) is much older.

Thanks to the guys at The Hardball Times for publishing my review.

Addendum: A few people have commented on my review over at Baseball Primer. I thought the comments were mostly good, and there are a few from people who have actually read both books at the heart of the debate. I’m very much looking forward to Mike Emeigh’s review, and Tango Tiger just nails it (If you don’t know what it is, you’ll see.). Although one person ripped me, he/she admitted to never reading the book. ????? I’m glad I don’t have the guts to criticize people about things which I have no knowledge. It’s funny how ignorance and arrogance often correlate positively, but I guess it makes sense. The anonymity of the internet doesn’t help. There’s no real reputational cost to saying stupid things, so why not act like a complete idiot. And, of course, now someone’s going to get his/her feelings hurt and be all upset about what I said; but, if no one’s willing to stand up these losers then they’ll just keep clouding good debates with noise. The more noise, the more we need a filter. The problem is that a filter is a public good, which is under-provided. So, consider my response as an altruistic gesture… and I’m not kidding.

Also, thanks to those of you who sent me e-mails. I appreciate your comments, and I will try to get back to all of you.

Esix Snead: Bush Leaguer

I haven’t seen the footage for this yet, but, if the account reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch is accurate, this incident in the Richmond/Syracuse game last night should get Esix Snead and his .241/.349/.333 butt kicked off the team.

Bush had bent over and had his back to Snead. Running nearly full sped, Snead extended his arm with his helmet in it and smashed into Bush from behind. Bush apparently suffered a cut from the helmet and was stitched up by a doctor in the clubhouse during the game.

“I had my back turned and didn’t know he was coming,” Bush told a reporter covering the game for the Syracuse Post-Standard. “I saw my second baseman running toward the mound, and I thought, ‘Why is he running toward me?’ At the very last second, I turned my head and saw the helmet in his hand. He hit me in the side of the head. I never saw it coming.”

Now that is a cheap shot.

Addendum: You can see the video here. The article in the Richmond paper understates how cheap this shot was.

Braves Draft Review

Bryan Smith of Baseball Analysts has posted his Drafting Team Rankings for the NL. The Braves 2005 class comes in 7th place under the heading “Picking Early, Often and Effectively.” Here’s what he has to say.

After drafting surprisingly conservative with their first pick, choosing college closer Joey Devine, Roy Clark went back to normal the rest of the way. There was Beau Jones, one of Louisiana’s best arms, and Yuniel Escobar, the toolsy shortstop from Cuba. Many talented arms (35 pitchers in total, the draft’s high), and quite a few picks from Georgia and Florida. And of course, lots of high schoolers, as their six college choices were a draft low. It seems that the Braves have just about as much consistency in their draft styles as they do first place finishes. The exception of the year, as mentioned, was Devine. With the club facing unexpected bullpen problems that are likely not going away, hoping Devine to be the answer is a good philosophy. While some mock the idea of spending a first-round pick on relievers, for some teams I believe it is undoubtedly the right decision. And of course the best part of the current Braves draft is the fact that their first five picks have been signed.