Braves Mid-Term Grades

I meant to post this a week ago, but things kept getting in the way. The grades below are based on performance before the All-Star break.

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I’m back from my vacation on the South Carolina coast. Given the “popularity” of my last post on the Braves I thought I’d do another. Grades are based on performance relative to the player’s position. I do not weight performance according to age. Numbers in parentheses are OPS+ for hitters and ERA+ for pitchers.

Hitters
Chipper Jones (168) A: Chipper Jones is having another season of outstanding offense limited by injury. If he could stay healthy he’d be getting a lot more recognition.

Edgar Renteria (130) A: Edgar is having another nice offensive season. For a shortstop, he’s off the charts good. I wish he were a better defender, but he gets the job done. The year in Boston was a fluke (let’s forget that “he’s an NL player bullplop”), and he will continue to be a productive hitter for several years.

Kelly Johnson (128) A: Kelly has had a magnificent first half, yet he finds himself out of a jobs as the leadoff hitter and the team’s everyday second baseman. Willie Harris’s hot bat, combined with his speed, has taken his place as the leadoff hitter when both are in the lineup. Hot prospect Yunel Escobar leads off and plays seconds against left-handers. I feel bad for Kelly, because he’s had a good season and might have had a shot at the All-Star team with a little publicity. To his credit, he’s handled the situation well and should find himself back in the everyday leadoff role before long. Kelly is a guy that the Braves might want to think about locking up to a long-term deal. At worst, Kelly is a solid big-league player and I expect him to have a better career than Jeff Francoeur. He doesn’t have the eye of the public like Francoeur or McCann and might be willing to secure his future at a low price.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (125) A: Speaking of flukes, I think Salty’s year in Mississippi was a poor indication of what type of player this kid is. He may be hitting a bit over his true ability, but he’s doing quite well for a 22-year-old catcher/first baseman. I think he’ll being playing first base everyday before long.

Matt Diaz (125) B+: Why did the Royals let this guy go? What sort of roster crunch necessitates giving up on a guy who could play in the majors for the league minimum? No more complaints about how this small market team can’t compete, please! Diaz is 29 and probably isn’t as good as his numbers, but he’s a good player to have on the roster.

Willie Harris (131) B+: Here’s a nice surprise. You have to love it when a career 67 OPS+ hitter outperforms his career numbers like this. He’s a versatile defender who is a legitimate base-stealer. I hope he keeps it up.

Brian McCann (99) B+: For a catcher, McCann is still a good hitter even though he’s not playing up to his 2006 campaign. He was reluctant to take his All-Star invitation, but when you look at the rest of the NL backstops it’s clear why he was selected. He played through some injuries and doesn’t complain. Everyone expects a better second half, including me.

Yunel Escobar (101) B: Escobar got of to a good start, but I don’t think it will last. He wasn’t blowing away Richmond and he’s not playing better than Kelly or Edgar, so I think he’ll be going back to Richmond to get some regular time. Is he being showcased for a trade? I doubt it. Major league scouting departments are aware that players play in the minor leagues and know how to translate this play to a higher level. There is no reason to put him on display if he’s taking away time from Kelly. But, I don’t want this to be all negative—hey, I did give him a B. He’s hit the ball well and played good defense.

Jeff Francoeur (103) C: Frenchy has improved since last year, but after starting off showing some patience at the plate, he has reverted to his old free-swinging ways. For a right fielder his offense is not spectacular, and his loss of power is a bit scary. He’s hit four fewer homers than he did in his first season in about 100 more at bats. I still wonder what kind of player he would be today if the Braves had left him in the minors a little longer. The hype/true-ability ratio is still far greater than one.

Andruw Jones (91) C-: Yuck! Now, that was an ugly first half. And what a time to have it: your contract year. Rafael Furcal did the same thing a few seasons ago and turned things around in the second half and earned himself a nice free agent pay-day with the Dodgers. Let me reiterate, Andruw Jones is a pull hitter. He has never had success hitting the ball the other way, even in when he is putting up good numbers. Joe Simpson, please stop talking about this; and no, I don’t see him doing whatever you say he is doing wrong in the replay of his swing. Just let the guy have his slump in peace and shut up about it. Now, the good news. PrOPS says his OPS is 100 points less than what it ought to be. Before the season started, Andruw stated that one of his goals was to improve his walk rate, and he’s done that. His isolated-power is .200. Part of his low batting average has been a product of bad luck. He hasn’t played his best baseball at the plate, but his problems are more a product of outcomes than process. It’s a huge credit to Andruw that he isn’t hitting the panic button, and I expect he will have a much better second half. Andruw also deserves praise for his continued excellent defense.

Scott Thorman (70) D: Please, make it stop. Thorman’s offense is bad, especially for the cold corner (can I call it that?). What is worse is his behavior after he strikes out or pops up. Someone please get this guy a copy of Moneyball, and make him read the excerpts about Billy Beane’s playing days. The tantrums seem to be a sign that his problems are mental not physical. I think a trip to the minors would do him good. Take some pressure off and send him to Richmond for some hitting instruction. Tell him, “you’re not going back to Atlanta until September, just relax.”

Brayan Pena (49) D: He didn’t have much time and he’s needed to spell the catchers. The Braves ought to call him up and send Thorman down, so that Salty can play more.

Chris Woodward (45) D-: The Braves need a back-up shortstop who you don’t mind getting splinters in his backside. Woodward matches this description and therefore avoids the F. Pinch-hitting this guy and playing him at first are the manager’s fault, not his own.

Ryan Langerhans (-20) F: Ryan’s not this bad a player, but his time with the Braves this year was bad. I thought he was the 2008 center fielder, but I guess not.

Pete Orr (9) F: Finally, he was sent to the minors. I don’t see any place for him in the organization anymore. He can’t hit, and a defensive replacement infielder who can’t play shortstop doesn’t have much value.

Martin Prado (13) F: I’m not a Prado fan.

Craig Wilson (53) F: Well, that didn’t work. I thought it was a good signing, but Wilson just didn’t get it going. I don’t blame the Braves for trying.

Pitchers

John Smoltz (137) A: More excellent pitching from Smoltzie. I hope he stays healthy and keeps his mouth shut about other players.

Oscar Villarreal (111) A-: I can’t believe I’m giving Villarreal an A-. A year ago, Chris Reitsma was the only thing distracting fans from how bad this guy was. He seems to have found his niche in long relief, though he his still prone to moments of awfulness. Given the Braves problems with starters, I don’t see why Cox won’t give him a chance. In a way, I guess he sort of is, considering he normally comes in for several innings when the starter can’t make it out of the third. He’s doing a nice job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Tyler Yates (105) A-: I can’t believe I’m giving Yates an A-. A year ago, Chris Reitsma was the only thing distracting fans from how bad this guy was. He seems to have found his niche in setting up the set-up man, though he his still prone to moments of awfulness. He’s doing a nice job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. (That was easy.)

Rafael Soriano (151) A-: He’s been good, and will probably be the closer before the year is out. I have more confidence in Soriano than any other member of the bullpen.

Tim Hudson (119) B+: A nice season so far, and he’s keeping the ball in the ballpark. Seems to have runs of good pitching and bad pitching.

Peter Moylan (198) B: Moylan is an example of why teams should be wary of giving big-money long-term contracts to relievers. Moylan was picked up for peanuts and stuck.

Mike Gonzalez (265) B-: He pitched decent when he played. Not giving up a single homer was nice.

Buddy Carlyle (93) C: Carlyle is making the most of his return to the majors. Even if he collapses, he’s shown enough to guarantee himself a shot on an MLB roster for next season.

Chuck James (106) C: Not a world beater, but not Kyle Davies. It’s hard not to like this guy. If he can get the homers under control without increasing his walks he’s going to have a good major league career.

Bob Wickman (88) C: Someone asked me which player will surprise Braves fans the most this year, and my answer was that Bob Wickman isn’t as good as his 2006 Atlanta numbers. He’s a good pitcher, but not that good. I think he’s decided he’s about done, and it shows.

Kyle Davies (76) D: It’s time to send Kyle to Richmond. Please, don’t say, “he’s got nothing to prove in Triple-A.” The minor leagues are not about proving you can succeed against other minor league players, they are about learning is a setting where the games don’t matter. Few scouts have bad things to say about him, which is why he was a highly touted prospect. I’d like to see him get some special instruction where the games don’t count. I’m afraid if he stays on the major league roster, by the time he figures things out, he’ll begin getting some big arbitration awards.

Macay McBride (117) D: I was surprised to see McBride have so much trouble, and even more surprised to see the Braves give up on him so fast. Clearly, someone in management didn’t like him.

Chad Paronto (101) D: More walks than strikeouts is a big no-no. At least he’s keeping the ball in the park.

Lance Cormier (28) F: Why were people so excited about this guy? He had a good spring training? So did Ryan Langerhans.

Anthony Lerew (54) F: Another prospect fizzled. He’s injured.

Mark Redman (36) F: I thought it was a good signing, but he didn’t have it. I would have at least kept him for the bullpen. Apparently, he never really got into shape over the offseason; or, maybe he’s just done.

Kevin Barry (19) NG: Called up just to fill the roster.

Blaine Boyer (125) NG: He’s part of the Braves future plans. I hope he works his way back.

Steve Colyer (86) NG: I forgot he played for the Braves this year. I will forget again in a week.

Joey Devine (NA) NG: I wish the Braves would leave Devine down until they really need him.

Wilfredo Ledezma (65) NG: I’d rather have McBride.

Jo-Jo Reyes (28) NG: He’s a prospect making a spot start. Please, send this guy back to the minors.

I can’t wait for this round of “fan” mail.

4 Responses “Braves Mid-Term Grades”

  1. Marc Schneider says:

    Agree with the grades in general (and I think this shows what a great and unappreciated player Chipper is), but I still disagree with the characterization of Andruw and even more with the attempt to conflate statistics with diagnosis. I don’t think anyone–including Joe Simpson–thinks Andruw should start becoming an opposite field hitter. But, the point is, even if you are a pull hitter, it doesn’t mean you go up and try to pull everything. I find it baffling for you to say you don’t see any problems with his swing; my god, he almost twists into the ground trying to jack everything out and he is clearly pulling off the ball. Just because his stats show he is most effective when he is pulling doesn’t mean that trying to pull everything isn’t a problem. And, as far as saying he is unlucky, I acknowledge that I don’t fully understand PROPS, but my, admittedly unsystematic observation suggests a lot more strikeouts and popups and fewer hard hit balls. He’s had a bad year and I don’t see how you can sugarcoat it by saying he’s just unlucky. And, again, while I don’t fully agree with Joe Simpson, I think his point is that Andruw needs to be more balanced and stop pulling off the ball. Once he does that, he will be able to pull more successfully. Hopefully, he is pulling out of it and will have a decent second half.

    I totally agree about Wickman. I’m afraid there are going to be more bad blown saves before Bobby gets the point–if he ever does. Overall, Wickman was a good acquisition, but he is about done.

    I also agree re KJ and Escobar. KJ got off to such a good start that people were expecting him to be Reyes all year. But he is a solid player and, to me, has a lot more upside than Escobar. I like Harris’ speed, but there is no way he doesn’t struggle the second half.

  2. JC says:

    I never said Andruw’s swing was pretty. I’m not qualified to judge from sight and I don’t pretend to. I’ve seen too many comments from people saying Player X has the ugliest swing (Player X goes on to become a good hitter) and Player Y has a gorgeous swing (Player Y has washed out of baseball). What I do know are results. Just do a search of Andruw Jones on this site and you will find numerous posts where I document that Andruw’s slumps and booms have nothing to do with hitting to the opposite field. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t understand Joe’s “analysis.” All I can tell is that when he strikes out he says he did something wrong, and when he hits it, Joe says he did something right. As best I can tell the swings he discuss look identical. I believe that “going the other way” isn’t something that you can just do. It’s not like cutting some food out of your diet. It’s a difficult skill that some hitters can do, and some can’t. To me, it’s like suggesting he start switch hitting. Some people can do it, and some can’t. Andruw’s natural abilities cause him to pull the ball, and that’s just the deal.

  3. Jason says:

    A few comments…

    I told you here on the blog that Wilson was a bad signing. I am not suggesting that I know more than you, but I am still stunned that you couldn’t see that this wasn’t going to work out as it should have been pretty obvious to everyone that Wilson was on the downside already.

    I’m not surprised at all about Thorman either. The Braves were hoping they’d find another LaRoche, but I had a feeling based on Thorman’s stats that this probably wasn’t going to happen.
    He might eventually be a decent first baseman though.

    You’re pretty generous to Andruw. I’d probably give him a D.

    As far as Kelly Johnson goes, I don’t understand your comments at all. Once Cox pegs you as a platoon player, you ARE a platoon player. The only way Johnson is going to become a regular again is if his platoon buddy gets hurt AND Johnson becomes unstoppable at the plate.

  4. Ron says:

    I mostly agree with your rankings, although I’d give Yates and Villareal lower grades.

    As for Andruw, the problem is not pulling vs hitting the other way, it’s consistently being vulnerable to sliders outside. Because he does try to pull basically everything, he ends up striking out (usually looking silly in the process) or weakly grounding out on those pitches. If he tried to hit those pitches the other way or just foul them off, he would do better. Instead he tries to hit 5 run homers on them and has a .212 BA to show for it.