Panic!

The Braves are in a state that I haven’t seen since I was in high school. I know it’s too early to draw much from the way the Braves have played this season, but that’s not what I’m worried about. What bothers me is the way the team is behaving. I think it’s clear that the front office is in panic mode. It started a year ago, when the Braves drafted Joey Devine from college. I think Devine was a fine choice, and he may become a very good major league pitcher. This is what I had to say about what Devine’s drafting tells me about the Braves last season.

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 Powell, both of whom were rebuffed by other major league teams, were legitimate options (shiver). …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.

So, how have things changed since last year? Well, the Braves acquired Oscar Villarreal (more hit batters than strikeouts, so far) and Lance Cormier (the hallmark of adequacy) for Johnny Estrada. They acquired Wes Obermueller (hi, I’m in triple-A) for Dan Kolb. And they brought in an obviously finished Mike Remlinger, who was actually able to win a job in spring training. That says more about the quality of the pitching staff than Remlinger. Schuerholz entertained several of the big-name pitchers on the market, but came up with nothing. And it seems that the negotiations with Farnsworth went very badly and that the Braves could have had him for not much more than they already had on the table.

The point is, the team didn’t do much of anything to help the pitching situation. In fact, the brass nearly traded away John Thomson. Devine impresses in spring training, but starts the year in Richmond, gets yanked back up, then sent back down after chalking up more wild pitches than strikeouts. Ken Ray, who wasn’t even a non-roster invitee pitched his way onto the club from minor league camp. Boyer and McBride have been hurt. Lerew was not ready, but it appears Chuck James is. None of the starters have pitched well, except for Thomson. And it’s hard to forget that the team replaced Leo Mazzone with Roger McDowell.

My point is that, if the Braves have a plan, it sure doesn’t look like one. I know there have been some injuries, but injuries are to be expected, along with inconsistency from young pitchers. The latest move, signing Peter Moylan and promoting him to Atlanta, is not typical either. Moylan impressed many by striking out four batters in under two innings of work in the WBC. He also walked five. The team is grasping for an answer, and I don’t like it.

With all of the problems the Braves had last year, and with a new pitching regime coming in, I think Schuerholz should have made sure he had at least one more quality veteran on the staff. I think the failure to sign Farnsworth was a big mistake. Now, we are going to just have to wait and see how everything plays out. The ship may right itself, but I don’t see any obvious reason to believe it will.

4 Responses “Panic!”

  1. Adam says:

    Is it too early in the season to panic about the pitching? I think so.

    The bullpen, surprisingly, has been solid, if unspectacular. Reitsma has been typical and fine (despite all the grumblings), Ray has been great, James has been dominant, and Cormier has been adequate. The only costly pitcher has been Villarreal, and even he hasn’t killed the Braves.

    As for the starting pitching, I am worried about Hudson … he’s been declining for years. Sosa will also post a 4 + ERA this year. But Smoltz will be fine. Thompson will be typical, and Davies should continue to improve. And there’s always Lerew, and Chuck James is ready to go as a starter as well.

    As for Farnsworth, I think he’s a flake. Sure, he throws 98 mph, but he also blew game 4. Reitsma could have done that. He also took more money to be a set-up man. At least Reitsma is a competitor.

    I think we’ll be fine. And the offense has looked great. Give them a few more weeks.

  2. JC says:

    I’m not panicking. I’m saying the Braves are panicking, because they don’t appear to have a plan. I’m not surprised the pitching has been bad to start the season. I thought it would be bad before the first pitch was thrown.

  3. Mac Thomason says:

    Leo looks more like a genius every passing day — even if he’s not working wonders in Ballmer… The dreaded words “shoulder surgery” are cropping up around Boyer, so we really shouldn’t count on him ever again pitching for the Braves.

    Imagine if we were getting the typical pitching to go with this offense. Heck, team would probably be 7-1 right now.

  4. Chuck Oliveos says:

    What distresses me the most is the apparent lack of a pitching philosophy. They had one under Mazzone, and one that worked particularly well. I can understand that they felt that they no longer wanted Mazzone, whatever the reasons. However, why didn’t they hire someone who would continue his pitching philosophies? Instead they brought in McDowell, who seems to have none in particular. As Don Sutton mentioned on one of the games, the starters are not throwing as many fastballs and they’re throwing inside more. My guess is that they’re not doing the extra throwing between starts that Mazzone embraced. That could be the reason the starters have been having so much trouble with their control.

    Something which occurs to me as I write this is that one difference between the Braves and so-called Moneyball teams is their philosophy of organization. From what I’ve gathered from reading about how they operate, the Braves believe in hiring people they trust, then leaving them alone to do their job. The Moneyball philosophy involves implementing a single, overall organizational philosophy, using metrics to measure performance at all levels in order to: a) see whether or not organizational policy needs to be tweaked; and, b) ensure that those in positions of responsibility are actually implementing the organizational philosophy. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and one of the weaknesses of the Braves’ approach was exposed with the departure of Mazzone, namely, the fact that they ended up abandoning an approach to the handling of pitchers that has worked well over the years, because the guy they brought in has ideas of his own.

    I don’t know how on the mark that final observation is, but I thought I’d throw it out there. I’ve got an idea for pitching coach though. Encourage Greg Maddux to retire and hire him. :)