Archive for Braves
Last night, the Braves 2010 season came to an end, along with Bobby Cox’s managerial career. I was a good fan this year, living on the hope that good things can happen, even as the odds tilted more and more against the team. Around the seventh inning of last night’s game, I had a moment of clarity: this team has no shot and never did. Sure, the team could lucky-bounce its way into the NLCS and maybe even the World Series, but that was highly unlikely. And deep down, I’d known this team was dead the moment that Martin Prado went down. Even before then, this team wasn’t capable of playing like a 91-win team in the post-season. When Melky Cabrera mercifully ended the season, I was angry and disappointed, but strangely relieved. The 2010 Braves died slowly, but they gave it all they had—not for themselves, but for Bobby. This has been one of my absolute favorite seasons to watch Braves baseball, but it was time to go. Their work was done. In a season that I watched my father die a slow and predictable death, it was strange parallel path to recognize in the the late innings of last night’s game.
Why was Bobby Cox such a good manager? Bobby is not just intelligent, but he likes people and understands them. I can think of exactly three players who didn’t get along with Bobby: Kenny Lofton, Tim Spooneybarger, and Yunel Escobar. There were probably more, but Bobby made sure that such problems didn’t spill out into public. Bobby was once a player, and not a great one. I think one of the reasons he wore spikes was to remind players that he was once were they are: he had walked, and continued to walk, in their shoes. He gave it all he had on the field, and he had never liked being showed up for lacking ability he didn’t have. Bobby had a positive role model, and an anti-role model. He took after Ralph Houck and was careful to avoid doing anything like Billy Martin had done. Bobby understood that to win with the players he had, he had to get the most out of all of them. That meant not just having good players play well, but have the bad ones play as well as they could, too. If a star got an ego and started problems with lesser players in the clubhouse, Bobby didn’t see it as player versus player, but as all players getting worse. He treated all players equally. The rules applied to everyone, and the team would win and lose together. If you didn’t like it, you were going to have problems. Probably the greatest testament to Cox’s ability to handle people is the fact that Gary Sheffield played for the Braves for two seasons, and he didn’t have a single problem. Controversy followed Sheffield throughout his career, but there was none of it in Atlanta.
Bobby also had an eye for talent and was amazingly patient. He would allow young kids to play everyday, and early failures were tolerated as growing pains. Being a general manager helped his patience. He returned to the Braves dugout in 1990s, he would be managing teams that he had built. He watched for long-run success and wasn’t going make snap judgements based on small samples. Sometimes his fondness, or lack of fondness, for a player would get him into trouble. But, I’m a big believer that sometimes the overall qualities that give us our strengths and weaknesses aren’t easily modified. The same stubbornness that allowed him to write Jeff Francoeur in the lineup everyday for far too long was the same thing that allowed him to stick by John Smoltz in 1991 when every one was demanding he be sent back to the minors. You can’t have one without the other.
How good was he has a manager? I recently examined how his players performed with and without Bobby as their manager. I found that the hitters were no worse, and that pitchers were much better (decreased their ERAs by approximately 0.25) when they played for Bobby.
I also have a personal observation of Bobby that made a lasting impression. At SABR 40 this year in Atlanta, Bobby graciously agreed to appear on a morning panel on the Braves rise from worst to first. It was the first session of the day, I think it was at 8am. The night before, the Braves had played a game against the Giants in the sweltering August summer heat and humidity of Atlanta. Late that day he would participate in the festivities surrounding Tom Glavine‘s number retirement, and he had a night game to manage after that. Bobby could have bagged the event and no one would have complained. The panel still had several former players, and we all know Bobby had a lot going on. Not only did he show up, he was in a suit and tie. He was as professional and polite as anyone could be. He answered every question, he signed autographs, and he never looked at his watch. At that moment, I understood why Bobby’s players love him so much.
Bobby Cox is a class act, and I will miss him. Good luck in your retirement, Bobby, and thanks for everything.
Last night during Game 1 of the Braves-Giants NLDS, San Francisco fans jeered Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward with the chant “Posey’s Better!” in reference to San Francisco’s Buster Posey being the superior rookie. Frankly, I thought it was kind of rude. Georgia gives you Posey, and you give us Rice-A-Roni. Thanks. There is no doubt that Posey is a phenomenal young baseball player, but let’s not sell Heyward short.
Instead of taunts, let’s look at the performances of the two players this season to see what they provided for their respective big-league this season.
Player Positions PA Batting Runs Def. Runs Saved Buster Posey C(73%)/1B 443 15.7 5 Jason Heyward RF 623 26.6 10
With the bat, Heyward produced more runs; with his glove he saved more runs; and he played 40% more than Posey. Simply put, Jason Heyward gave more value to his team than Buster Posey did in 2010, and it wasn’t really close. Using the method that I explain in my new book, I estimated that Heyward’s performance was worth approximately $14 million compared to Posey’s $9 million. Given that there has been so much discussion about who should be the NL Rookie of the Year, how is it that Heyward has such a big lead?
Then main difference between the two players is that Heyward played more. While the J-Hey Kid was taking an early lead in the Rookie of the Year sweepstakes, Posey was in Triple-A Fresno. And the value of runs is increasing, not linear, so the marginal runs added by Heyward were more valuable. Whether that’s Posey’s fault or nor, it’s still value that Posey didn’t contribute.
You might argue that Posey played the tougher position of catcher. Well, he did, part of the time. About three-fourths of his defensive innings were played at catcher, a tougher position than right field. But when he was first called up, he played first base, a less valuable position than right field. And while right field may be relatively less important than catcher, Jason Heyward played it excellently saving ten runs more than the average right fielder. Buster Posey wasn’t as good between his two positions.
Now, past aside, is Buster Posey better than Jason Heyward? An affirmative answer is certainly defensible. But, if you’re going to be jerks about it, this is the kind of analysis that you’re going to get from a bitter Braves fan. So, don’t be surprised if Turner Field welcomes Gerald Demp “Buster” Posey back to Georgia with a classic “GER-ald…GER-ald.” Nah, we’re too nice for that.
Thomas Lake has a nice retrospective article on Bobby Cox’s ejections in the current issue of Sports Illustrated. If you have read it, you might have seen my brief contribution.
FEW HUMAN endeavors have been studied so closely by so many people with such fascination for such a long time as the game of baseball. Historians, economists and statisticians scrutinize everything that happens and compare it with everything else that already happened, going back to 1871. This ocean of numbers can tell us a lot about Bobby Cox. For example: He makes pitchers better. J.C. Bradbury, author of the 2008 book The Baseball Economist: The Real Game Exposed, looked at pitchers who had thrown for multiple teams and compared their performances for Cox with their performances for other teams. Using a sophisticated technique called multiple regression analysis, Bradbury factored out variables such as hitter-friendly ballparks, league ERA differences, team defense and pitchers’ ages. What remained was a meaningful Cox Effect, worth about a quarter of a run every nine innings. (True, the Leo Mazzone Effect was even larger, but the Cox Effect existed even in the 14 years Mazzone wasn’t Cox’s pitching coach.)
I looked at pitchers with more than 30 innings pitched in a season and hitters with more than 100 plate appearances who played for Bobby Cox and at least one other manager. The tables below report the estimates. The performance numbers are park corrected.
ERA Bobby Cox -0.256 (3.95)** Career ERA 0.833 (16.36)** LgERA 0.249 (2.71)** Tm BABIP 10.839 (4.12)** Age -0.341 (6.10)** Age2 0.006 (6.28)** Constant 1.686 (1.61) Observations 1519 R-squared 0.29 Robust t statistics in parentheses * significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%
OPS Bobby Cox -0.006 (1.24) Career OPS 0.935 (42.88)** LgOPS 0.415 (6.48)** Age 0.028 (4.98)** Age2 -0.00046 (5.01)** Constant -0.670 (7.00)** Observations 1833 R-squared 0.52 Robust t statistics in parentheses * significant at 5%; ** significant at 1%
Carroll Rogers has noticed that attendance is up for the Braves and asks readers to suggest explanations.
The Braves have only played 12 games at home this season – entering a seven-game home stand that opens on Friday at Turner Field. But so far the returns in attendance are up.
The Braves’ average home attendance has increased by 20 percent from about this time last year, according to figures in a recent Wall Street Journal article. The Braves’ increase is second only to Minnesota for the biggest increase in Major League Baseball through games of May 8….
So what do you think it’s about? Is Jason Heyward having that big an impact? Or is it because this is manager Bobby Cox’s last season? Or is it because of good weather or that three-game series against the Cubs to open the season?
Readers seem to think Heyward and Cox are the big draws, but I think there are a few other factors involved. And after looking at the numbers, I think you can make the case that the numbers so far suggest that attendance might very well go down this year.
2009 2010 Gm# Date Opp Attendance Gm# Date Opp Attendance 4 Friday Apr 10 WSN 48,327 1 Monday Apr 5 CHC 53,081 5 Saturday Apr 11 WSN 34,325 2 Wednesday Apr 7 CHC 36,170 6 Sunday Apr 12 WSN 19,873 3 Thursday Apr 8 CHC 27,443 7 Tuesday Apr 14 FLA 16,293 10 Friday Apr 16 COL 27,692 8 Wednesday Apr 15FLA 19,204 11 Saturday Apr 17 COL 32,602 9 Thursday Apr 16 FLA 21,072 12 Sunday Apr 18 COL 26,546 19 Monday Apr 27 STL 16,739 13 Tuesday Apr 20 PHI 18,032 20 Tuesday Apr 28 STL 18,121 14 Wednesday Apr 21PHI 21,171 21 Wednesday Apr 29STL 19,127 15 Thursday Apr 22 PHI 22,476 22 Friday May 1 HOU 29,309 23 Friday Apr 30 HOU 30,082 23 Saturday May 2 HOU 28,203 24 Saturday May 1 HOU 27,035 24 Sunday May 3 HOU 27,921 25 Sunday May 2 HOU 25,665 25 Monday May 4 NYM 19,132 26 Tuesday May 5 NYM 21,049 Overall Mean 24,193 Overall Mean 29,000 Weekend Games 6 Weekend Games 6 Total 177,781 Total 169,622 Mean 29,630 Mean 28,270 Weekday Games 8 Weekday Games 6 Total 150,737 Total 178,373 Mean 18,842 Mean 29,729 Opening Total 102,525 Opening Total 116,694 Mean 34,175 Mean 38,898 Houston Total 85,433 Houston Total 82,782 Mean 28,478 Mean 27,594
There are a few things to note here. The first thing I notice is that there were more weekday (Monday-Thursday) games in 2009 than 2010, which normally generate lower attendance than weekend games. This is going to bring the average down. This disparity is exacerbated by the fact that the Braves opened the series against the Cubs on a weekday. The opening series, especially the first game, traditionally brings a huge crowd. And when the Cubs come to Turner Field, it might as well be a home game for the Cubs. This year, the Braves actually outdrew last year’s opening series by 14%, even though the 2009 home opener was held over the weekend. That goes to show what hosting the Cubs versus the Nationals will do for you.
I think a good barometer for how attendance will change this year is the comparison between the 2009 and 2010 Houston series, because both were held over a weekend at about the same time in the season. This year the Braves drew 884 fewer fans per game to the Houston series than last year. If Cox and Heyward were a part of the 20% boost, it should show up here.
Having Heyward and Cox on board certainly don’t hurt—they may be preventing attendance from shrinking—but I don’t think that they have much to do with the rise in average attendance so far. This does not mean that attendance will not be up later in the season. If the Braves start winning as the season progresses, I expect that attendance will rise. Despite the team’s early woes, I think think the roster is built to win, which will ultimately put fans in the seats.
Edit: I initially attributed the AJC blog post to David O’Brien. My apologies to Ms. Rogers, who also does an excellent job covering the Braves.
Jason Heyward has just played his 30th game in the big leagues, and oh what a start it has been. A local kid rising to meet exceptional expectations; it kind of reminds me of another young phenom.
Despite Heyward’s hot start, Francoeur’s beginning was arguably hotter. Francoeur had more homers, a higher average, a higher slugging percentage, and a higher OPS. Does this foretell a similar demise for Heyward (Francoeur currently has a .705 OPS for the Mets)? While I won’t be surprised if Heyward’s numbers fall some, there are some distinct differences between the two players.
The first difference is obvious: walks. At the same point in their major league careers, Heyward has 20 walks; Francoeur wouldn’t get his first walk until four games later, and it was intentional. Heyward has the plate discipline that Francoeur still lacks.
And more important are their minor-league performances. Francoeur had decent, but unimpressive, minor-league numbers. Heyward had a better minor-league career, absolutely destroying the Double-A. Analyzing minor-league stats is tricky, so below I use the markers I employ for predicting major-league success from minor-league performance (see my upcoming book for justification): walk rate, strikeout rate, and isolated power (age is also important). These stats are for their High-A and Double-A performances before they joined the big league team. (Stats below High-A do not predict success well. Heyward barely played in Triple-A, and I excluded Francoeur’s 2008 demotion.).
So, despite their similar hot starts, Braves fans shouldn’t worry about Heyward becoming Francoeur. On the surface, the players’ hot starts may appear similar, but their skill sets are quite different. Heyward is already better than Francoeur will ever be, and his future looks very bright.
For my birthday last year, my daughter and I went to a night game to see the Braves take on the Marlins while they were in hot pursuit of the NL Wildcard. It also happened to be $1 ticket night. We arrived early to avoid the crowd, but I soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. A mere 25,000 was the listed attendance for this pivotal game, but even that low number was an exaggeration on the high side.
Despite the small crowd, it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended at the Ted. The crowd wasn’t just there for the cheap tickets, they were into the game and its playoff implications. Even my six-year-old didn’t want to leave her seat. In between innings, I scanned the empty seats and wondered what the Braves could do to get people to pay more attention to a team that is likely to be a winner in the coming years. I’m not a PR consultant, but I have a few ideas.
— As the $1 ticket experience revealed, the main price of the game isn’t the ticket. Time, parking, and safety are the big costs. People have plenty of other entertainment options, including watching the game on TV. The game has to offer something extra. At a minimum, the area around the stadium has to be cleaned up. Parking in a poorly-lit church lot and walking past a parade of beggars through a sketchy area of town is a big deterrent. I know you want people to get into the stadium to spend money, but scaring them in probably isn’t the best tactic if they don’t go down to the stadium in the first place. Buy some property around the stadium and clean it up. Expand parking opportunities to lessen traffic. Build some bars or restaurants outside the stadium that are only open around games. The goal isn’t to run directly profitable businesses in these establishments, but to clean up the area around the stadium. (Oh wait, a stadium didn’t spur economic development on its own?)
— Get some new between-innings “entertainment.” I don’t go to that many games and even I knew the script as to what was coming, right up the the annoying “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” sing along. Do something new, and don’t do the same thing every game. Dare I suggest using the giant scoreboard to talk about baseball? Focus on pennant races, game updates, and web gems. Maybe use the television announcers with some between-inning commentary to integrate the broadcast experience that is familiar to Braves fans.
— Sell this team as a winner. Last season’s ad campaign focused on Turner Field. Turner Field? Look, I like the Ted as much as the next fan, but its 14 years old: too old to be seen as a new and exciting, and too new to have nostalgic value. The seasons before, they sold the “baby Braves,” and that turned out to be boring when all but one of them blossomed. How about selling Atlanta fans a winning team? Don’t just put a winner on the field, remind fans that that’s the goal that this team is aiming for. This team is going to be a contender. Come watch us take on the Division rival NL Champion Phillies! Isn’t that exciting? Why not use it.
— Signal that this team is different to fans. Let fans see a visible sign that this team is different. No more, hanging around until mid-season before breaking your heart. How can you signal this? Why not new uniforms? Be bold. Deviate from the string of Division championships as a motivation for following the team; that was five seasons ago. Adopt a slogan like, “A Whole New Breed of Winners,” but less lame.
— Be more open with fans, and cut the corporate trust-us-we-know-what-we’re-doing attitude. For example, just yesterday, John Schuerholz told Mark Bowman the following.
In addition, those fans who have summed the estimated salaries that the Braves will dish out this summer, find themselves wondering why it appears the Braves might be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million less than they did during the 2009 season.
When asked about the 2010 payroll, Braves president John Schuerholz said it will remain the same despite that fewer fans came to Turner Field in 2009.
“It won’t be diminished at all,” Schuerholz said. “In the face of the economy and in the face of the downturn that we and a lot of other clubs had to deal with in terms of attendance and such, we’re not backing off. We’re going to continue committing all that we can in what I think is a very reasonable manner to put the club together.”
Calculations of salaries provided in 2009 confirm the Braves’ payroll was about $95 million. Estimated costs that will be incurred during the summer appear to rest in the neighborhood of $85 million.
Still the Braves contend that their payroll once again rests near the $90 million figure that was enhanced in 2009 with the insurance dollars they received while Tim Hudson spent the first five months of the season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
This act is tiresome, and the condescending double-speak rubs everyone the wrong way. Fans have been buzzing all offseason about what the team was going to do with a payroll equivalent to last year’s, which is commonly listed at about $97 million.
Why suddenly act like this is what the team has been planning all along, and you’re just ignorant for thinking otherwise? Cut the bullshit. You either cut payroll by trading Vazquez, or you have been misleading fans by allowing the false expectation of a mid-$90 million payroll to persist. Insulting fans isn’t a way to build fan loyalty. And if this was on innocent divergence in expectations between fans and the front office, address it head on. Why are we just now learning about the Hudson insurance issue caveat to the “stable payroll” talking point that’s been pushed? Because this should be obvious to everyone, right? This could have been explained to a beat reporter weeks ago. Now after making some good moves, Braves fans are disappointed.
— It’s time for the Braves to embrace the new media. Braves fans just don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, and read the newspaper. And they read more than MLB.com in the Internet. Invite some fan-bloggers to the stadium for a meet-and-greet, maybe even hand out a few press credentials. How about Frank Wren sitting down for an interview with Mac Thomason, whose been blogging about the Braves before the term “blog” existed.
— And speaking of Frank Wren, let’s see some more of him. I have been very impressed with Wren’s open and frank style in interviews. He comes off friendly and honest, and he’s made some good moves. He’s very different than his predecessor, and I think the club would benefit from seeing Wren as the club’s figurehead; especially, with Bobby Cox stepping down after the season. To his credit, Wren does make himself available to the media, and I think he should continue to expand to new outlets.
Looks like the Braves are not increasing their budget in a way that seemed like they might. Don’t get me wrong, I think Glaus and Hinske are fine players, and their contracts are reasonable. Like many other Braves fans, I thought the team would be adding better bat. But, as much as I want to hate these moves, I don’t.
If Glaus is healthy, and I think there is good reason to believe that he is, he’s an upgrade over LaRoche for a measly $4 million—the total amount he’s owed if he maxes out his incentives. Excluding his 2009, he’s a $9-$10 million player. For the guaranteed $1.75 million portion of the contract, that’s a risk worth taking. But, it doesn’t appear that other GMs were beating down his door, so we’ll have to see.
Hinske could make a nice platoon partner for Matt Diaz. It’s kind of a shame that Diaz was denied everyday opportunities while Golden Boy stunk up the joint, but the Braves are a better team with Diaz sharing some at-bats with Hinske. Although, early indications are that Hinske will pinch hit and back up, with Bobby Cox in charge, that means you play a hell of a lot. No word on the contract terms, but it sounds like he’s cheap.
As uninspiring as these moves sound, I like the deals.
So, after hurting Derek “there wasn’t anybody holding a gun to their heads” Lowe’s precious feelings by openly shopping him (I guess you can’t really control leaks from other teams) the Braves traded Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan to the New York Yankees for [holds nose] Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and Arodys Vizcaino. As a Braves fan, I say “yuck” even though the deal isn’t really that bad. I liked Vazquez and I don’t care for Cabrera. But, when it comes down to it, this is a financial transaction, which I think signals that the Braves plan to sign a major free agent.
Here’s the deal. Vazquez is owed $11.5 million for 2010, and then he’s a free agent. I estimate that his performance will be worth about $12.5 million to an average team. Because the Braves and Yankees project to be above average teams, he’s actually a little more valuable. Even then, he’s not worth a great deal beyond his salary.
Cabrera is a poor man’s Jeff Francoeur. He’ll earn somewhere close to $3 million in arbitration, and put up some mediocre numbers off the bench. If he’s used properly—please, Bobby, use him off the bench only—that’s about what he’ll be worth. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him non-tendered after the season. Dunn and Logan are similar. Vizcaino rates high on many prospect lists, but he’s a long way off. Basically, this comes down to a swap of Vazquez’s surplus value for Vizcaino’s discounted expected future value.
The moral of the story is that when you’re paying a guy close to what he’s worth, you’re not going to get back much in a trade, even if he’s quite good.
The Braves just got a lot worse for next year as a team, but they also just shed a lot of payroll. The Braves aren’t expecting Cabrera to be the bat they need. To me this signals that the Braves are going after Bay or Holliday as a free agent, or they can take on a hitter with a big salary in a trade. Given the Braves problems with attracting fans at the ballpark, I think it’s important for the organization to build on last year’s momentum. Dumping Vazquez with no other corresponding moves doesn’t seem like the plan.
The Braves have designated Ryan Church for assignment. I find it interesting that last season the Braves offered an inferior Jeff Francoeur exactly what Church made last season—he would ultimately end up settling for $3.375 million.
Francoeur Church Career .268/.312/.434 .272/.345/.441 Previous .239/.294/.359 .273/.338/.384 Arb. Offer $2.8 million DFA
Church probably wasn’t going to get much of a raise after his poor 2010. He’s a good defender, who will likely bounce back with the bat. Though he did have some injury issues, he appeared to have been benched by Cox at the end of the year. For whatever reason, Church does not endear himself to managers. Maybe he’s not worth tendering a contract, but it reveals the Braves double-standard towards its golden boy that infuriated fans. Of course, the Braves could still get something of value in a trade, but we’ll have to see what happens.
Like most observers, I was surprised that Rafael Soriano accepted the Braves’ offer of arbitration last night. Soriano’s agent Peter Greenberg seems to have indicated to the Braves that he doesn’t expect his client to pitch for the crowded Braves bullpen, but to be traded.
“If they accept arbitration, I don’t think they’ll be in a role that they’ll be excited about, based on what they did last year,” Wren said. “I would anticipate them coming to us and asking us to trade them once the market develops and goes forward.”
This decision appears to indicate that Soriano is a risk-taker. Soriano is likely worth about what he would get in an arbitration hearing, but he’ll lose out on a multi-year deal that he could sign as a free agent. And, it seems unlikely that the Braves and Soriano will agree to a long-term deal. He’ll get a big payday this year, then head out for free agency next year.
But, I wonder if there might be another explanation. Soriano is a Type A free agent, which means that any team that signs him would likely have to give up its first-round pick to the Braves. This compensation cuts into the salary that his signing team might be willing to pay him, depending on how the signing team values the Braves’ draft pick. The solution is to unbundle the pick from the player. Should the Braves trade Soriano, there is no lost-free-agent compensation. Since Soriano will likely be worth about what he will get in arbitration, no team will be willing to give up much for him. We’re talking a minor prospect instead of a first-round talent. Soriano then reaps his full value for next year.
The next step is to approve a trade. After the trade goes down, Soriano can approach his new team to discuss a long-term deal to guarantee security without even throwing a pitch in 2010. Maybe the Braves can capture some of that value in prospects, given that they know this is a possibility, but Soriano really holds all the cards. Reports are (though it’s not clear to me where this is in the CBA) that Soriano must approve any trades before June 15. Plus, he can always threaten not to sign a long-run deal with his new team; thus, teams aren’t going to be willing give up much more than what he’s worth on a one-year deal.
Now, this is all hypothetical justification after the fact, but I have to say that upon reflection this is making a little more sense. The end result is that Soriano gets his full value for next season and possibly a long-term deal similar to what he would have gotten as a free agent; all without having draft-pick compensation sap some of his worth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Greenberg attracts some new clients if he pulls this off. Oh, and draft-pick compensation will certainly be going away in the next CBA.