Archive for September, 2006

Should the Braves Trade Andruw Jones?

Once again, the team that never talks about it’s players is floating the idea of trading Andruw Jones. Andruw is finishing up another fine season in which he made $13 million. Jones will make $13.5 million in 2007 and then his contract expires. Today in the AJC, David O’Brien discusses the pros and cons of trading Jones—the first article in a four part series on fixing the Braves—and his tone leads me to believe the team is seriously considering moving him.

I’m torn, Andruw Jones makes a lot of money, and only in the past two seasons has he played up to his contract. He’s one of my favorite players, and I enjoy watching him play. I predicted that he would break out even more in 2006, but that didn’t happen; however, he merely played about the same. PrOPS says that Jones was unlucky in both 2005 and 2006. Maybe that indicates something is not right with PrOPS, or it could mean that he’s upped his game more than we’ve seen. Dave Studeman reports today that his early look at John Dewan’s The Fielding Bible stats shows that Andruw continues to be an excellent defender despite reports of his waning ability. (Studes also reports that 2007 THT Annual will include TFB’s plus/minus statistics, which I was fearing we might never see again.)

I estimate that Andruw Jones’s offense is worth between $10-11 million a season. I haven’t developed a system for valuing defense yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised that his defense pushes his value up to and beyond the value of his contract. Andruw is only 29, and I see some indications that he has some better seasons ahead of him. If I were the GM, I would not be eager to trade Andruw; and, I might be tempted to sign him to a three-year $45 million extension. I think there is a good shot that he’s going to be worth more than that, and even if he’s just a high-.800s OPS guy, he’s not embarrassing himself in center. Andruw likes it here (now that I live in Atlanta, I can say “here”) , and I think he might be willing to sign a deal that will take him through Cox’s retirement.

By the way, while we’re talking about Andruw’s contract, let’s acknowledge that the “Andruw went behind Boras’s back last time” story is total bullshit. It’s a great tale, but why would AJ retain an agent, to whom he paid a commission, just to ignore him? AJ likes Atlanta, and it’s not like he was stiffed. Boras got Andruw a good deal last time, whether his agent was in the room when he signed the contract or not. He might have taken a tad less to stay in Atlanta, and the story gives Boras some cover with other clients and GMs.

What about the pitching? Don’t the Braves need pitching more than offense? Well, yes they do. Who are you going to get to replace him? What can you buy more cheaply? Run prevention on the trade market for pitching, or run production and run prevention via Andruw Jones. I’m not saying that there isn’t a good trade out there for Andruw, but I’m not seeing any obvious targets. I would only trade him for a starter, too.

In conclusion, I think Andruw has a very good chance of having an MVP season next year. He’s a popular player, who at his worse is still a good players. I’d hate to watch him have a great season in another uniform. At the least, I think it’s worth holding onto him this offseason. If he fails to produce, then I suspect he’ll be movable at the deadline. Plus, his 10/5 status makes trading him complicated anyway. I say, put off the decision until it has to be made.

Girardi for MOY?

Manager of the Year should actually be named “the award for the team that was supposed to suck but didn’t.” The reason behind this is that if a team performed beyond it’s expectations, then it must have been the manager who played a large part. How much of a part he actually played is hard to determine, but certainly he deserves some credit. This year’s leading candidate in the NL is Joe Girardi of the Florida Marlins, and it’s shaping up to be a good story because Girardi is going to be fired after the season. The general reaction I’ve seen across the web, from both writers and fans, is that the Marlins must be idiots. “How can they fire the man who managed a $15 million team to a near-playoff berth!” If he wins MOY, then this will confirm the consensus. Already, reports have Girardi lined up to take Dusty Baker’s place in Chicago.

Some say it’s a personal thing with the owner, because Jeff Loria almost fired him earlier in the year after he yelled at the owner for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. But, it’s not just one shouting match with the owner—although yelling at the owner in public is never a smart idea. Girardi and the front office don’t get along, and the front office deserves most of the credit for the Marlins this year. If you have to choose one or the other, Loria is making the wise choice. While many in the media referred to these moves as a “fire sale”, the Marlins were making good baseball decisions. They dumped the big contracts of Carlos Delgado and Mike Lowell, and picked up several cheap and young replacements. Miguel Cabrera is hitting the ball no worse than Carlos Beltran, yet he’s making $11.5 million less. Dontrelle Willis continues to be a bargain. As a Braves fan, no team scares me more in the near future than the Marlins.

But couldn’t these players have played better because of Girardi’s guidance? Maybe, but it’s not like Florida just started putting a winning club on the field on the cheap. This is a team that won the World Series three years ago on a $50 million payroll. From 2000-2005, the Marlins had a payroll nearly 40% below the league average, while averaging 82 wins a season. That is very impressive.

The Marlins won’t miss Girardi and the Cubs—or whoever hires him—shouldn’t expect any miracles from him. This doesn’t mean that Girardi is a bad manager, but I think too little credit is going to Larry Beinfest and his staff for the Marlins excellent season.

The Southpaw

Jeff Merron is now writing for 108 Magazine, where he’s running The Southpaw blog. You may remember him from his extensive article on Leo Mazzone last year for ESPN.com.

With the passing of Syd Thrift last week, Jeff decided to publish his full interview with Thrift that he used in his profile of Mazzone. Thrift is the man responsible for ending Mazzone’s playing career and giving him his first coaching job. Here’s an except.

THRIFT: A lot of the pitching coaches try to get everybody to pitch the way they pitch. That’s the mistake they make.

JM: But they know Leo doesn’t do that, right, I mean Leo doesn’t keep anything secret?

THRIFT: No, no, no he’s wide open.

JM: So, if let’s say I were trying to become a pitching coach, I…

THRIFT: You’d go learn from him, wouldn’t you?

JM: What’s your favorite thing about Leo?

THRIFT: My favorite thing about Leo is that he’s a teacher. You know a teacher is sometimes a person who can take information and give it to another party. Sometimes though without even realizing what’s happening, you know? It just happens. And I think the main thing is, the reason he has great results is the players and the pitchers trust him. They trust him and they respect him.

Also, check out his discussion of Johnny Sain.

Francoeur Game Update

With a week to go in the Francoeur game, I thought I’d give a little update.

On May 19, I predicted Jeff would finish the season with the following line:

.260/.275/.465 ==> .740 OPS

Several others chimed in with their estimates. All, except for one person who seconded my projection, predicted that Jeff would finish above this. Well, here’s how Francoeur stands with a week to go:

.258/.290/.437 ==> .727 OPS

There’s still time for improvement, but not much. Jeff played out of his head in 2005. In my opinion it was a perfect storm of lucky bounces, poor scouting, and good performance. Next year is going to be a pivotal season. I hope the Braves will stress improvement rather than continuing to hype him as their next star.

I’ll be looking back at some of my other not-so-accurate predictions soon.

Wickman and Smoltz

In the past two days, the Braves made moves to keep two veterans on the roster for 2007. On Wednesday, the Braves announced the signing of Bob Wickman for $6.5 million. On Thursday, the Braves picked up Smoltz’s option that will pay him $8 million. Both moves have been hailed by the media and fans as great moves. The funny thing is, all this praise comes without the discussion of compensation. Though both of these pitchers have been excellent for the Braves, one of these deals is bad, the other good.

Bob Wickman is not worth $6.5 million, especially on a team that complains its budget is stretched. First, Wickman’s time in Atlanta is probably a poor indicator of how he’s going to pitch next year. So far, he’s thrown a grand total of 23 innings, all excellent. He should be commended for that, but his career performance indicates he’s not that good. In 2004 and 2005 he posted FIP ERAs of 4.37 and 4.53—that’s average— compared to his excellent 2.9 in 2006. What’s the big difference? Home runs—the least stable of the DIPS triumvirate—surrendering 1.28 per 9 innings in the previous two seasons compared to 0.34 in 2006. Both his strikeouts and walks are up, too. I’m scared.

Second, he’s neither young or in shape. Thank goodness the Braves only signed him for one year.

Third, I estimate that Roger Clemens is worth about $70,000 per inning pitched. If he pitched Wickman’s 2005 62 innings he’d have generated about $4.3 million for his team. Wickman isn’t as good as Roger, either. Of course, this may all change given the increased revenue flowing to owners. Once the free agents signings start, we may find out that these guys are worth a lot more money. In any event, I don’t think Schuerholz got a deal by signing him early.

Yeah, I understand that the Braves need a reliable reliever, but they need a lot of other things too. I don’t think this is the most efficient way to increase the teams difference in runs scored and runs allowed. So, once again I’ll be the dissenting Braves fan who doesn’t like the move. What do I know? I guess I’m just a stat-geek with a pocket protector.

Smoltz, on the other hand is a bargain. He’s getting older and will fall off some, but 200 innings of Smoltz-quality pitching is worth way more than $8 million—heck, that’s only $1.5 million more than Wickman. I value Smoltz at close to $14 million. It was certainly a no-brainer for the team to pick up the option. I suspect Smoltz knew that when he complained, but I think it’s more frustration with the management. There’s a lot of tension in that clubhouse, which isn’t surprising with a losing team.

An Artificial Breakout?

Yesterday, Adam LaRoche was the subject of Bob Ley’s Outside the Lines on ESPN. The show focused on LaRoche’s change in performance since going on the ADD drug Concerta. The implication was that the drug was responsible for Adam’s up-tick in performance. In this morning’s AJC, Dave O’Brien is critical of the program for offering no other explanation of Rochy’s improvement and suggests an alternate explanation:

In edited interviews with LaRoche and other Braves players, no mention was made of another factor the team believes helped him turn his season around — playing every day, instead of being benched vs. left-handed pitchers. …

He began taking medication in late June — the same week he started playing vs. lefties after platoon partner Brian Jordan broke a collarbone.

I rarely watch Ley’s show, which I like, but I just happened to catch this one. I, too, thought the accusation that the medicine, which is on the banned substance list, was sole cause of LaRoche’s turnaround was off-base. However, I don’t think batting against lefties has anything to do with it. If anything, it makes his job more difficult.

Let’s look at LaRoche’s splits by month.

April		.747
May 		.910
June 		.756
July 		1.043
August 		1.239
September 	.947

He certainly has performed better since June; however, that May wasn’t too shabby. Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple method for calculating PrOPS by month, but I can tell you that I’ve monitored them all season, and he had been underperforming earlier in the season. Couple this with the fact that he underperformed in 2005, and his numbers seem more outrageous. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the medication is helping, but he should have been given some credit for his maturation as a hitter. I certainly don’t think that Adam’s performance is beyond the realm of the ability he demonstrated before going on the drugs. But, no one asked me—or anyone else—and it’s a subject that should have been addressed.

Grading the Braves Pitchers

Here are my grades for pitchers. You do not receive extra points for being young, old clutch, or gutsy. Pitchers get one grade, even if they pitched both as a starter and reliever.

Starters: C-
John Smoltz: A
Tim Hudson: C
Chuck James: C
Horacio Ramirez: C
John Thomson: C
Kyle Davies: F
Jorge Sosa: F

John Smoltz is proving to everyone that Schuerholz was wrong to put him in the bullpen. You know that’s got to make him smile. What’s wrong with Huddy? The Braves just have to hope he rebounds, rather then pitching like Horacio Ramirez. Tim, that slot is taken. Chuck James pitched well for a rookie, but he’s got to limit the long balls. Kyle Davies isn’t ready; another case of the Braves rushing a youngster. John Thomson started off great, but then must have asked Tim Hudson for some advice, because he just collapsed. Couple his performance with his injuries and he’s looking at a tough year on the free agent market. Jorge Sosa, DIPS proponents thank you for making the point.

Relievers: C
Bob Wickman: A
Chad Poronto: B
Mike Remlinger: B
Macay McBride: B
Tyler Yates: C
Lance Cormier: C
Ken Ray: C
Kevin Barry: C
Oscar Villarreal: D
Chris Reitsma: F

I think the bullpen looks a little better than it was because when you blow the lead in the bottom of the ninth, the other team doesn’t keep batting. You couldn’t ask for anything more from Wickman. I wonder if anyone in Cleveland thinks he was slacking. Poronto had a career year; good for him. I thought Remlinger shouldn’t have made the team, but now think he shouldn’t have been cut. McBride turned his F-season around. If he keeps his walks down, he’ll be good. Tyler Yates, yuck. Lance Cormier, ehh. Ken Ray was a nice story, but he wasn’t very good. Kevin Barry: freed, but so what? The Vulture at one point was pitching almost as bad as Reitsma, but no one noticed because of it. He pitched nicely as a starter at the end of the year, but it’s not enough to make up for his atrocious first half. Closer material? I don’t think so. At least he stayed healthy. For Chris Reitsma’s sake, I hope his injury was responsible for his poor pitching.

Not Graded
Dany Baez
Blaine Boyer
Joey Devine
Wayne Franklin
Peter Moylan
Anthony Lerew
Jason Shiell
Travis Smith
Phil Stockman

As you can see, there is hope here. This Braves pitching staff was not good, but it could have been a lot worse. In fact, the difference in making the playoffs may have been Leo Mazzone. This is not to put down McDowell, either. Simply, the transition costs are large and I think that has reflected tough years for both McDowell and Mazzone. One thing that is clear is that Leo was not a problem, which the Braves P.R. machine was selling to anyone who wasn’t even listening. If Schuerholz valued the post-season streak, he should have ponied up the dough to keep Leo. For the price of Daryle Ward, he probably could have kept him. Oh well.

The good news is that if the Braves can get a few more arms, and find the real Tim Hudson, the team has enough bats to contend next year. Finding them is easier said than done, but the Braves are in a better position than a lot of teams. One thing I would advise against is re-signing Wickman. He was great for the Braves, but I don’t expect it to continue. It’s a great opportunity to overpay. Twenty innings is a small sample. Also, don’t get too excited about Mike Hampton coming back. He’s a C pitcher, and the team has enough of those. Blaine Boyer? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be excited about. 2005 was good in a very small sample. John Foster? He’s just not very good. Joey Devine? Who knows what this kid will be.

It’s Over

The streak is over. Last night, the Mets eliminated the Braves for the first time since I was in high school. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. The Braves were so bad during my adolescence, I still haven’t gotten over it. This leads me to wonder, how does a Braves fans cope with no hope of the post-season? As a kid I used to follow Dale Murphy in the home rune race and pick other teams to follow. In reality, the Braves have been out of the playoffs for two months; that’s when I gave up on the team. I cringed each time the Braves made trades. While Bob Wickman turned his season around and improved the Braves, the team has just flushed $2 million (or more, based on incentives for innings pitched) down the toilet. It’s OK for fans to have false hopes, but not the front office.

The good news is that I think the team can be competitive next year if it can bring in a few arms. Giles will be moved. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adam LaRoche go either: Chipper has to go to first, and LaRoche’s value couldn’t be higher. Wait ’til next year!

Interview with BDD: Part II

Joe has posted Part II of my interview at Baseball Digest Daily. In this installment, we talk about The Baseball Economist.

At the Ted

I went to my first Braves game of the season yesterday. It was a good Sunday afternoon for baseball. I knew the Cubs were bad, but it’s much more painful to see them in person. The Cubs fans couldn’t even drown out the hometown crowd during “Take me out to the ballgame.” I sat in the upper deck behind the visitor’s dugout, and the view was great. You can see the downtown Atlanta skyline, and the view of the action is fine. My daughter had a lot of fun doing the “haw-muh-tawk” chop, and wore her Francoeur jersey-shirt and Braves cap proudly. Speaking of Francoeur, no player got a bigger applause than Jeff when he came to the plate. The kid sells tickets.

I want to give a thumbs up to Gondeee’s Guide to Turner Field. I go to games so infrequently that I’ve never developed a good way to get there. I followed the directions and found five dollar parking within a short walk. I encountered no traffic on the way in or out. Of course, having the game during the Falcons opener probably contributed a bit.