Deja Vu, All Over Again

Feeling sympathy for Charlie Brown

If the success of the Braves over the past 15 years bothers you, you can take comfort in knowing that the failures in the playoffs make the run much less enjoyable for Braves fans. On my way back in town I lost the radio signal of yesterday’s game with the Braves up 6-1 and Fransworth entering the game. I felt good. It was in the bag. When I found the game on when I got home, I knew it was over. The bullpen teased me for a while, the the result was bound to happen. When you blow a 5-run lead, you don’t deserve to win.

Back in July, I expressed my concerns about the pen that had been more lucky than good, and thankfully Schuerholz did go out and get Farnsworth, who was the real goat in Game 4. But that was it. The Braves really only had one dependable pitcher in the pen, and he had a very bad day. If the pen had held up in games one and three, this might not have been so bad.

How appropriate it was that Joey Devine was on the mound to give up a game-winning homer. It’s not his fault. Devine represents the state of panic that the Braves have not shown about their pitching in some time. No matter what anyone says, the drafting of Devine in the first round of this year’s draft was completely out of character for this organization. It may have been a good pick, and I like him, but that doesn’t mean we can’t read something into this. The situation was desperate. A little more than $5 million dollars paid Dan Kolb to be totally worthless and Tom Martin to pitch a week. Jim Brower and Jay Payton Powell (thanks James), both of whom were rebuffed by other major league teams, were legitimate options (shiver). Look, Leo’s good for half a point of ERA; he can’t do the pitching equivalent of feeding 5,000 people with some bread and fish. Even some of the good work the Braves got from Boyer, McBride, and Davies during the season is a negative, not a positive, in my mind. These guys were not ready. Sure, they had some success, but they struggled at times as well. They were up as desperate measures. I doubt this was the backup plan, but I don’t see what the other options were. This must have been it. And to their credit, these kids did do some very good things and deserve a lot of credit. But, I don’t know what to expect in the future. Relief pitching is hard to evaluate in small samples. I expect there will be some more minor league ball for all of these guys.

The point is, the Braves took pitching for granted, and they shouldn’t have. No one could have predicted Kolb’s collapse, although he never should have been a closer, but you knew something would go wrong. What was the plan? And even though Bernero, who went through a little bad luck, pitched well, he was demoted and DFA’ed with plenty of room on the September roster. Why wasn’t he given a chance? A few dink hits at bad times were why he was gone. And he pitched well in AAA. And why wasn’t Chuck James given a chance to pitch down the stretch? When he finally got some garbage time he looked pretty darn good. The rumored departure of Leo, really scares me now. He can’t work miracles, but he’s done quite a bit with what he’s been given. He was clearly pissed with a few guys in the pen, and was not afraid to say so.

The good thing for the Braves is that next year looks bright on the offensive side. Every position has a quality major league player in place. Look for several off-season trades for decent veteran relief. LaRoche, Langerhans, Johnson, and possibly Marte could be moved. I want the Braves to keep Marte because few players hold such potential at such a low price. The Braves must get something good if they give him up. Estrada should not be moved, because he’s better and cheaper than any other catching options as a backup or starter. Plus, McCann is still young and may need breaks at times, he could even struggle mightily, with no one in the minors ready for 2006. Estrada holds too much value for the Braves to unload. On the pitching side, Horacio and Sosa both may be moved. Sosa’s performed worse than his ERA, and Horacio is not good enough to keep with so many options coming out of AAA. Smoltz’s health has to be a concern as well. I don’t think he would have pitched again this year. All of these moves should be made to construct a bullpen with an abundance of options. I’d like to see Reitsma (whom I think is hurt) in more of a Mike Remlinger role in the middle of the game. Some of the kids may step up, but we just don’t know. The Braves need to be more prepared.

I’ll admit that my current analysis is tainted with bitterness. In a month, I may be able to look at the situation more objectively. But, I don’t think I’ll change my mind on much. It’s frustrating that the bullpen, which scared so many of us coming out of spring training, was the Braves downfall. I will also add that there were a lot of positives this season: the Jones had fantastic years, many rookies really played well, and the team rebounded when the bullpen let them down time after time. Hopefully, the positives will overtake the negatives in my mind until pitchers and catchers report.

11 Responses “Deja Vu, All Over Again”

  1. Jason says:

    I share your bitterness about this team. I often think we’d be better off if they simply lost the division a year or two…that would at least save us the annual postseason misery.

    I think some of the signs of panic you see are actually signs of progress. I agree that drafting Devine was out of character, but using him made a lot of sense. He, better than Kolb, had a chance at missing bats. The fact that Bobby used him in lieu of Ramirez in a clutch situation is a sign of progress in my book. At least maybe we’ll never see a Charlie Liebrandt type move again.

    Other than Kolb and Martin, i thought the bullpen moves this season made a lot of sense. Why trade for “veterans” when you can get performance out of the likes of Boyer and McBride? I think the one guy this team missed the most vs. the Astros was Boyer. He provided a lot of quality innings late in the season..slot him into where Reitsma was placed and maybe things turn out differently.

    Speaking of Reitsma, I think it is time for him to go. He will be expensive next year and appears to be in decline (at least for the time being). Trading for him was sheer brillance, but JS should quit while he is ahead.

    You mention keeping Estrada…at 2m a year I am not so sure. I think 2004 was a bit of anomaly for him, and Will Carroll over at BP has hinted that Estrada’s back has reached maximum medical improvement. I think that $$ can be better spent on the infield and in the bullpen.

    I see two big questions for ’06: what to do about Furcal? and what to do about Jones/Marte. One option is to ditch LaRoche and move CJ to 1st, plugging in Marte at 3rd. The problem is that Marte looked awful the bigs and LaRoche/Franco quietly hit 29 bombs…can Marte replicate that? What abotu Marte in the left field rotation? The bigger issue is Furcal…he’ll likely command 9-10m a year for 4 years, which seems like too much. Can Betemit still play short? He seems too big in my mind…what about Johnson? He was a SS before, could he go back?

    Anyway you shake it this team has far fewer questions going into ’06 than it did in ’05…but that doesn’t mean we won’t be right back here in 12 months w/ the same bitter feeling.

  2. Matt says:

    Another question I have in my mind are what’s going on with Hampton’s contract. I believe he’s owed something like $17 million next year. But I also hear the Braves will get a substantial portion of that back from the insurance. Does anyone know exactly what that amount will be? Is Hampton even guaranteed to be back?

    I’m also not so sure Estrada will get $2 million in arbitration. I think 1.5 sounds more reasonable considering his service time. Either way, 2 catchers would only cost around $2 million, give or take a couple 100K. That’s pretty low for the quality we have.

  3. Johnny says:

    I look at this year as a special season. The Marlins and the Phillies were better teams on paper. Jordan and Mondesi in the outfield to start the season was a disaster. A bullpen held together by bubble gum and scotch tape. Hudson, Chipper, Hampton, Thomson on the DL and Furcal hurting in the 1st half and we still got into the playoffs. 18 rookies. Had the Phils or the Marlins had half a heart beat our string of division titles would have been broken.

    Of course I’m still tasting the bitter bile of this playoff loss. Up 5 runs with your only effective reliever up should have meant a chance to at least see us lose game 5 or get swept by the Cardinals. Farsnworth despite his great numbers had been less than dominating. It seemed to me when I watched him that he was always letting someone hit the ball hard. Still, he picked a hell of a time to implode.

    Our future is bright because of an excess of talent at some key positions. We should keep Marte. All the statistical evidence says the he is going to be at least a championship caliber contributor if not a star. I’d give him a 1B mitt and tell him to start practicing digging out throws. Chipper is more effective offensively when he plays third. He has earned 1st choice at the positions. We should keep Estrada too. If he can hit in the .280s with 30 or so doubles he is a decent player to have around. Even though I think that McCann has the potential to be the best of the baby Braves he is still only 21 and is very prone to a sophomore slump.

    Some knothead team is going to overpay Furcal so I would think that Betemit will get his shot. Look for the team to pick up a defensive specialist as insurance.

    As much as we need pitching I can see the Braves dangling Ramirez and trying to sell high on Sosa over the winter. The team also should probably let Reitsma go or trade him. He still has some value but his maddening inconsistency makes it difficult to justify what he is going to make in arbitration. The Braves have proven that they can build a dominating bullpen on the cheap but the one constant was the anchor of a dominating closer. As much as I don’t want to believe the closer myth I’m beginning to think that any team with world championship aspirations has to have one. Spending a lot for a free agent closer may seem dumb but I wonder if that is the piece of the puzzle we need.

    I’m looking forward to hot stove season. John Schuerholz and company have a lot to do. I’ll be along for the ride as always hoping once again that this will be the year.

  4. Jason says:

    Peter Gammons reports that Hampton’s insurance will pay 50% starting in June06, which is not great, but not trivial.

    There is a 4.5M option on Thomson, and he seems easily replaceable…but 4.5M is “cheap” for a middling starter like him. Should they pick up the option, then trade him for something needed…like relief pitching? Or is that too risky?

  5. Matt says:

    Definately pick up the option. That’s a good price and with Smoltz’s age and health, we need depth.

  6. Johnny says:

    50% of 15 million is good. Doesn’t exactly mean that the loss of Hampton fills the coffers but it does mean that 4 or 5 million or so will be free to spend on other players.

    I think that priority #1 for the Braves will be to re sign Furcal. I don’t hold out much hope though because he will be a hot commodity and someone will pay 10 or 12 million over 3 to 4 years for him.

    I’d pick up Thomson. He has shown that he can be a good to very good pitcher when he is healthy.

  7. Marc Schneider says:

    I agree the Braves weren’t that good this year. They won primarily because of the incompetence of the Phillies and Marlins. The Braves were really a .500 team for most of the season.

    What I see has changed with the Braves in recent years is the way they pitch. At one time, this was a team with great K/bb ratios. This year, they were last in the league in ks and 8th in bbs. Of course, while the good kk/bb ratios were frequently celebrated by the announcers during the good years, the bad ones have been ignored. But when you look at the low strikeout and high bb totals for most of the pitchers, including Hudson, it’s amazing that the pitching was as good as it was. Of course, that was largely the bullpen’s downfall. I just would like to know what’s happened to the Mazzone formula of first-pitch strikes and commanding the strike zone. It doesn’t seem to be there anymore; of course, it was easier to practice when you had Maddux, Glavine and Avery.

    I think the pitching is the reason the Braves are now losing in the first round; before, it was dominant enough to get by the division series and, then in the LCS or the World Series, the hitting would fail. Now,you have much less dominant pitching and continuing inconsistent hitting–it’s not too surprising in my view that the Braves are having little success in the playoffs.

    I can’t figure out what the Braves are looking for in players. Apparently, they are not into “Moneyball” type evaluation and they seem to be completely oblivious to plate discipline and striikeout ratios. They seem to only care about tools guys that can hit homeruns and throw hard. Yet, at the same time, they don’t really have power arms. I can’t figure out what the “Braves Way” is other than it’s not Moneyball even though the Time Warner payrolls would seem to call for that kind of analysis.

  8. with all those rookies, who didn’t establish themselves in the minors..the team is very unpredictable with its pitching. And, that pitching is part of the Braves philosophy. I think they have to start with decisions on what they will do for pitching and then go to the other issues: infield corners, SS. I predict Furcal is gone, simply because the pitching situation is in worse limbo than worrying about whether Betemit can handle the responsibility of SS. Money saved on Hampton, and Furcal will probably go first to look at pitching help. All of the infield has cheaper alternatives.

    Of course Thomson’s option will be picked up. that is “a given” (isn7t it?) I predict Horam or Sosa will be traded.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Everyone whines about the Braves losing once again in the playoffs. However, it’s only been ten years since their last world series when, which seems like nothing when you compare it to the Red Sox’s 86 year losing streak. I, for one, and proud of the 2005 Braves. Considering that 3 of 5 starting pitchers were gone for a good chunk of the series and that Andruw Jones was sometimes the oldest player on the field, the Braves accomplished something significant in just getting to the playoffs. Sure, I would have liked to see another World Series with the Braves, but I don’t think everything that they did to overcome injuries and youth should be overlooked.

  10. Rebecca says:

    Everyone whines about the Braves losing once again in the playoffs. However, it’s only been ten years since their last world series win, which seems like nothing when you compare it to the Red Sox’s 86 year losing streak. I, for one, and proud of the 2005 Braves. Considering that 3 of 5 starting pitchers were gone for a good chunk of the season and that Andruw Jones was sometimes the oldest player on the field, the Braves accomplished something significant in just getting to the playoffs. Sure, I would have liked to see another World Series with the Braves, but I don’t think everything that they did to overcome injuries and youth should be overlooked.

  11. Joe says:

    I have lived and died with the Braves since the 1950’s in Milwaukee. I’m one of the few people remaining who knows what Hank Aaron’s original uniform number was (not 44). I much prefer the frustration of post-season disappointment to the years upon years of regular seasons being meaningless by late July. All I ask is that my team stay in contention all season so that I can really enjoy the dog days of summer as they were meant to be enjoyed. Anything beyond that is all bonus. To finish the post-season the way the Braves did this year was indeed bitterly disappointing. In fact the moment Cox came out to yank Hudson I was going ballistic, not because I knew anything about what was to come from Farnsworth, but because it was a foolish move even if Farnsworth pitched perfectly. Hudson was still strong, his pitch count was in the low 90’s and he was not being hit hard. There was a 5-run cushion to work with and MOST IMPORTANTLY there was a looming game 5 that Farnsworth would have been very compromised for after a 2-inning game 4 save(requiring 30-40 pitches). Letting Hudson go for another batter or two more would have made no difference in the outcome of game 4 if Farnsworth was on his game (as we all assumed he would be). So why did Cox opt for the two-inning save by Farnsworth rather than letting Hudson at least try to work his way out of what could only be viewed as a minor jam at the time. Even if Cox lets Hudson go one more batter, and that batter hits a homerun, the Braves are still up 6-4, bases empty, when Farnsworth comes in, still a cushion you would expect Farnsworth to hold. At that point the 2-inning save would have looked necessary and I wouldn’t have gone ballistic. If Hudson gets a double-play grounder on that next batter, then you easily decide to finish the eighth inning with Hudson and preserve Farnsworth for game 5 even if you use him for a 1-inning close-out of game 4. In my view Cox panicked in a situation that called for staying with Hudson longer given the overall situation. One of the lasting images in my mind will alway be seeing Hudson spewing the F-word as he saw Cox heading to the mound. Hudson knew he wasn’t finished and Cox should have known it too. Now, having vented about a game that should never have been lost and a post-season that should never have ended on that day… how anyone can sit back and look at the big picture and not conclude that the Braves WILDLY OVERACHIEVED in 2005 is beyond me. I wouldn’t let the post-season, or as intelligent observers refer to it… the silly season, obscure what an incredible season 2005 was. I’m not sure what the silly season measures, but it certainly doesn’t measure who the best team is or was. If it did, Seattle’s 116 game winners would have been world champions, and no wildcard team ever would be world champion. If anything, the silly season illustrates why baseball is so great… i.e., because there is enough luck involved that on any given day and over any given short run just about any team can win (therein lies the eternal hope of baseball), but there is enough influence from talent that over the long run the best teams will move to the top, and the best players will become established (therein lies the eternal truth). Of course a maximally satisfying season includes being hot and lucky during the silly season, but don’t let the paucity of that mask what an incredible 15 years it’s been to be a Braves fan.