Notes on 755 Hank Aaron Dr

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not really a recap this time

It's certainly not a weekly recap, since it's been two weeks since the last one.  I apologize to any readers out there for missing the week, but I was done in by allergies, so any "free" time I had was used trying to recover.  I didn't really want this to just be weekly recaps anyway, so breaking the pattern isn't all bad.

I should go ahead and point out that the past week was excellent, as far as results on the field go.  Part of that is probably just the vagaries of the season - even the worst teams in baseball tend to have some good weeks, and the Braves are not really a terrible team.  They're a team with significant weaknesses, and so when those weaknesses are exposed for whatever reason, they look awful.  But when the weaknesses aren't exposed, they look pretty good.

Of course, the real news was Freddie Freeman's injury, which exposed one of the Braves' big weaknesses.  There's almost no depth on this team, or even in the minors - at least when discussing talent ready for the majors.  Before Adonis Garcia and Freddie Freeman went on the DL, there were only four position players on the 40 man roster who weren't either on the 25 man roster or on the DL. Now there are two.  Of course, part of this is strategic; there are position prospects in the minors who don't need to be on the 40 man roster yet (Ozzie Albies, for example).  But still, the Braves felt the need to trade for a new 1B (Matt Adams), as well as signing James Loney as another insurance policy.  And while the Braves have done well since Freeman's injury, I don't expect that to continue all summer.  There's still almost ten weeks until he's expected back, and wrist injuries are notorious for lingering for quite a while.  His season may not be over, but his MVP chances are.

So, let's talk a little bit about the minor leagues.  Is there reason to hope?  This week, let's just look at the top of the minors.

Gwinnett is currently at 21-21.  There's not a lot of bright spots there so far.  The aforementioned Albies is off to a slow start, which is to be expected coming back from an injury.  Dustin Peterson has only just started playing.  Right now, the best hitter on the roster is a 28 year old career minor league catcher named David Freitas.  Catchers have weird career arcs, and last year was his best offensive year so far, so it's possible he could give the Braves a year or two of cheap and reasonable production, at least as a backup.  The "name" pitchers - Newcomb, Sims, Blair, Wisler - aren't exactly setting the world on fire.  Newcomb's got the best stats of the bunch, but even he's only averaging a bit over five innings a start, and has given up a lot of hits and walks.  He's doing better as the season goes on with the latter, but still not getting that deep into games regularly...  None of them are making a case yet for replacing the old men in Atlanta.

Mississippi is sitting at 22-22.  I'm noticing a pattern here?  There's a bit more promising offense down in AA, but of course that means it's that much less of a sure thing.  For instance, take Carlos Franco.  He's a 3B who had been knocking the ball around in Mississippi, slugging .560 with a .358 OBP.  Nice.  He's in AAA now, and struggled in his first weekend there.  Obviously, a single weekend means nothing, but then again, neither does a hot month prove he's for real.  His career numbers (8 seasons) are .330 OBP and .354 SLG.  Did he suddenly figure things out at 25, or was it just a fluke month?  Anyway, if you want someone to be excited about, look to Ronald Acuna.  He's only 19 and has put up solid numbers the last two years.  This year, they started him at High-A, and he did so well that he's already been promoted.  His numbers in Mississippi are even better than his numbers in Florida were.  I wouldn't expect the Braves to rush him, but if there's an opportunity to trade Kemp or Markakis this summer, you could see Acuna in Smyrna.

There's been good pitching at AA as well, including one guy on the 40 man roster.  Akeel Morris was the closer in Mississippi, and was lights out.  He's been promoted to AAA, where he's given up more hits, but also struck out 15 in just 10 innings.  I'd take it as a given that he'll be in the majors at some point this year.  The other two 40 man guys are Jesse Biddle and Max Fried.  Biddle looks like he's being used as a long man, and not doing much.  He could end up in the pen anyway.  Fried started off alternating awful and good starts, and has now just settled into blah.  He's averaging less than five innings a start, just over a hit per inning, and just under a strikeout per inning.  This is his first year at AA, so it's not a disaster, but he's one of the pitchers that need to step forward.

And really, that's a bit of a concern.  There's a ton of pitching prospects in the Braves system; it's the stated plan for rebuilding the team - pitching pitching pitching.  But so far, there's not a lot to show for all the arms that have been acquired.  It's early in the season, but right now only one of them seems to be taking any step forward.  The Mets are right now showing the dangers of trying to build on young pitchers.  Pitchers get hurt, because pitching is an incredibly unnatural activity.  Pitchers flame out, because prospects don't always turn into major league players.  When the Braves made a big deal about building this team the way they built the 1990s dynasty, I worried, because they 1990s team was in many ways lucky.  Part of that was injury luck, and part of it was in finding a path to success that wasn't being heavily used at that time.  They also had deep pockets at the time; Ted Turner was a very different owner than Liberty Media.  But also, free agency at that time was different than today.  Players like Greg Maddux almost never reach free agency now; teams have learned how to ensure that they get a return when a player is going to leave.  The path that the Braves took to the top in 1991 isn't really there now.  Now, if it turns out that all of this is just rhetoric to get the fans to buy into a rebuild, and not a real blueprint, then that's fine.  But when I see mock drafts that show the tea drafting a college pitcher with their high draft choice, I worry....

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The weekly recap, 9th of May Edition

With the rainout on Thursday last week, there were only five games in the past week.  Somehow the Braves only lost four of them, although it really felt like they lost six of them.  Yeah, it was not a good week.

Being swept by St. Louis isn't a horrible result, although the fact that the Braves generally looked completely outclassed by a .500 team is not good.  I suppose it depends on whether you think the Cardinals are better than their record.  Also, we should note that the Cardinals are basically out of outfielders on the 40 man roster at this point, so they should have been vulnerable.  But losing two of three to the Mets, especially while the Mets are imploding, is really bad.  I don't even really feel like going into any detail on any of the games.  It will just depress me....

I think the biggest concern I have at this point is that the youth movement is not doing well.  I have said it, over and over, that this season is about the younger players taking a step forward.  Right now, that's not happening at the major league level.  The team is being carried by Freeman, Markakis, Kemp, Flowers, and Phillips, as much as it's being carried.  Only Freeman has a future with the Braves from that group; the other four may not have much future anywhere at this point.

Swanson has regressed, which is not completely surprising, but still disappointing.  But Inciarte has also regressed a bit from last season, which may mean that what we're seeing now is his true talent level.  That's again, not a complete surprise, and at least (unlike Swanson) his defense is still elite.  He made a couple of catches on Saturday where I thought off the bat that it was an extra base hit.  He's not Andruw, but he's the best CF we've had the pleasure of watching in a while.

The only pitchers who have an ERA below 3.60 are Sam Freeman (who I had never heard of five minutes ago, and has pitched a pair of innings over the past weekend) and Jose Ramirez.  That's truly amazing.

I should take a look at what the minor league teams look like.  (That's for another day, though.)  The major league team is not good, and it's not exciting, and that's a really bad combination.  They've got a fancy new ballpark, but if the product on the field doesn't at least get interesting in the next month or two, they may start having trouble drawing fans as the temperatures rise.  (I wouldn't want to walk from lot E-44 - where I parked Saturday - to the stadium in 95 degree heat to watch a game like I saw Saturday.)

But I suspect that the options to improve the team are limited.  Obviously the big name prospect is Ozzie Albies.  But he's struggling (not surprising, since he's coming back from injury) and plays the same position as one of the few bright spots on offense.  Replacing Phillips with Albies might interest those of us who love prospects, but it's not likely to improve the team right now.

Churning the pitching staff might lead to some improvement, but is it a good idea to dump Colon, Dickey, Garcia, etc right now?  If you trade them, it's the definition of selling low.  Releasing them for nothing would be even worse.

I suspect that, at some point, they're going to fire Snickter to show that they're doing something.  That's too bad.  I'm not convinced that he's a good major league manager, but he's been a loyal organizational man for a long long time.  I hope that, if they do decide to remove him as manager, that they just reassign him somewhere else in the organization.  This team is not his fault.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Stadium report (and single game recap)

So, I went to the game Saturday evening, and I promised that I would give my report on the stadium.  In summary, I'd say "meh".  There were a few things that were better than Turner Field, and a whole mess of things that I felt were worse than Turner Field.  First, the good stuff:

  • The seating bowl is really nice, with a very good view of the field.
  • For the most part, the concourses are open to the field, so you can, in theory, see the action.
Really, that's the list of good stuff, in my opinion.  Obviously, that first one is important.  But here's the bad stuff:
  • The parking situation is a disaster.  The lots are much further from the stadium than at Turner Field, and the sidewalks are narrow, uneven, and poorly lit - if they're lit at all.  Also, since all parking is supposed to be prepaid, you end up giving Ticketmaster a bunch of service fees, which I don't like at all...
  • As a corollary to the parking setup, the process of entering the park is unpleasant.  Everyone who parks east of I-75 (where the bulk of the parking is) ends up at the 3rd base gate, which ends up overwhelmed.  We were there almost 90 minutes before gametime, and the lines were insane.  Part of that is the security theater involved, part of it is an assumption that everyone will get there early, walk an extra half mile on top of the half mile or more that they walked already, and go spend money at the Battery.
  • About those open concourses....  They're narrow, and there's not enough concessionaires.  So the lines for concessions are immense, and both block the ability to move around on the concourse, and the ability to actually see the field.  
I expect that the sidewalk thing will be resolved at some point, but it was an unpleasant experience getting to and from the stadium.  There was evidence of a lot of road work being done in the area.  It's stuff that really needed to be done before they opened the stadium, but that's probably asking too much.

The other two items are much tougher to resolve.  How do you improve the gate situation?  There's not really anywhere to add gates there.  And the concourses are what they are.  You can try to manage the lines better, but there's really just not room to do anything meaningful there.

I did not check out all of the other entertainment options, because I go to a ballpark for a ballgame.  And I'm a mean dad, so I try to make that apply for my son too.  We tried to get something to eat, but the lines were awful, and the one we stood in didn't move for ten minutes.  He got annoyed by the rain starting to hit us (between the wind, and the specific location of that concession stand, we were not in a dry spot), so we gave up.  We were in General Admission (because that's where the Scouts tickets were), so we never saw any vendors walking around us.  They stuck to the places where people had spent more money for tickets, I guess.

The game itself was awful.  Julio Teheran has regressed horribly; he struggled to throw strikes, and got hit pretty hard when he did come into the strike zone.  The Braves' offense made Mike Leake look like Greg Maddux.  At no point did I have any belief that the Braves would make a game of it.  We left after the sixth inning - it was cold, wet, and hopeless, so we decided to go find food outside the stadium.  (OK Cafe was delicious, for what it's worth.)

Anyway, I'm sure I'll be back at some point, but it's not really high on my list of things to do right now.  I'll let them fix the surrounding infrastructure, and probably keep an eye on hotel prices in the area.  Maybe we'll stay over that way, and avoid the mess.

I'll try to post the weekly recap tomorrow.  Spoiler alert - it wasn't a good week to be a Braves fan.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

This team is not consistent

So, another week, another wild swing.  I realize that it's mostly just coincidence based on the arbitrary endpoints that come from me doing these posts on Tuesdays (and don't ask why I'm writing them on Tuesday at lunch - I just am...), but it seems like every week I'm talking about all wins or all losses.  This week, of course, we have a 4-2 record to discuss.

So, if you'd told me a few weeks back that the Braves would win two games in New York this week, I would have definitely taken it as proof of the "anything can happen in baseball" phenomenon.  The Mets were supposed to be good this year.  However, instead the wins are evidence that "it was only the Mets" is in full force this year.  Not only do they have a bad record, they don't look like they've got any hope of improving.  Right now, I'd say Terry Collins is the odds-on favorite to be the first manager fired in 2017.

The Mets series was promising in that the bullpen pitched well overall, Teheran had a strong outing, and Dickey was OK.  The offense was timely, at least, if not quite as overwhelming (especially in the second game) as you'd expect when scoring 15 runs in two games.  Still, that's all good.  Dickey leaving after five innings is cause for mild concern, but since he's scheduled to start tonight, it was apparently not a significant injury.

The offense continued to put up runs in Milwaukee, which could be a good sign.  Of course, right now the Brewers are right around .500 themselves, so they're not exactly a powerhouse, and they're at that record based on their bats, not their pitching.  Bartolo Colon unfortunately is looking like a guy approaching his 44th birthday.  Of course, he's looked like he might be done multiple times over the past decade or so, so we'll see whether he fixes things or not.  Garcia had a good outing on Saturday, and despite the loss on Sunday, Foltynewicz had yet another strong outing.  He might be putting things together, which would be very good news.

Another series with the Mets started last night, this time at home.  And this time, the Braves lost.  Teheran crashed and burned in one inning, and that was enough.

Next week, I'll give a report on SunTrust Park.  Saturday is Scout Day, so my son gets to walk on the field before the game.  Here's hoping the weather is good and the baseball is entertaining.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Third verse, same as the first

Last week at this time, the Braves had a .500 record.  They then proceeded to lose every game since then.  Like I said last week, not a good team.

Being swept by the Nationals is not a big deal.  They're a very good team, and other than the middle game of the three game series, the Braves played them close.  It wasn't that far from being a 2-1 series win.  Obviously, moral victories mean nothing in the standings, but as I've said a couple of times (and will keep repeating all year), this season isn't about the standings.  It's about progress.  And Foltynewicz holding the Nationals to two runs over seven innings is progress.  Teheran giving up seven in four innings in game two?  Not so much, but I'm not worried about him having a bad outing.  It happens.

On the other hand, being swept by the Phillies is not a good look.  They are not a very good team, but they look like they might be a bit better than the Braves right now.  It's an interesting thing to watch over the next few years, as both teams are in full rebuild mode now, which team's plans will work better.  Foltynewicz had another strong outing in the last game of the series.  I'm sure it was me dissing him last week that fixed him.

The interesting thing about the past week is that it's showed how shallow the team is.  The bench has positional flexibility, but not much more.  Bonifacio is the perfect representation of this.  He can play a lot of positions on the field, but he's not particularly good at any of them, and is a major liability at the plate.  The bullpen isn't looking strong at this point, although we're still very much in "small sample size" territory there.

I tend to think that if Rodriguez hadn't gotten hurt, the record would be better, just because he's that much better than the rest of the bench players.  Although, if he wasn't out, I suppose Brandon Phillips would probably not be here, so maybe it wouldn't matter.  I don't know that Rodriguez is that much better than Phillips.  In any case, this is a team with no margin for error, and that's a really good way to end up with a terrible record.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two weeks in

So, the season is about two weeks old, and the Braves are at .500.  That's actually better than I would have expected, although having played a third of their games against the Padres certainly helped.

What can we say about the team so far?  Not much.  They're certainly not a good team; the four wins against the Padres weren't actually that impressive.  They're not a particularly bad team either, barring a serious injury to Freddie Freeman.  Because he's definitely the best player on the team, and over the past year one of the best players in all of MLB.

In any case, this season only matters in how much of a step forward the youngsters - especially the young pitchers - make.  They're mostly still in the minors at this point.  If a number of them force their way onto the big league roster, then the season is a success.  If they can't do that, the season is not a success, and in fact the rebuild may not succeed either.

Of the guys not in the minors, Teheran is looking good so far, but Foltynewicz is a mess.  It's really early, of course, and especially for pitchers, small sample sizes are a danger.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Well then

It's 2017, and I haven't posted on this site in almost three years.  I could just admit that I'm never going to update it, but I'm too stubborn to do so.  So, maybe, just maybe, I should figure out why I'm not doing so?

Part of it is that my life is much busier now than it was when I started this.  I've got a nine year old son, so that's become my primary focus for my spare time, rather than writing stuff on the internet.  (Heck, I don't even comment much on Braves Journal or Baseball Think Factory these days, and that takes a lot less effort than writing a blog post.)  And my professional life has also moved on; I have a lot more responsibilities at work than I used to.  I like that, but it's different than the days when I was an operations guy, whose primary responsibility was to be there when things didn't work.  Consulting and managing don't work that way.

And of course, a big part of it is that the Braves themselves have been less interesting the past couple of years than they had been.  This isn't to say that the teardown that they've embarked on is exactly "wrong", but the resulting team has been a mix of has-beens and never-will-bes, with really too many of the former for my liking.  I realize that Tommy LaStella and Joey Terdoslavich were never likely to be stars, but I'd rather watch them struggle than watch Nick Markakis or Brandon Phillips.  Sure, the latter two are actual major league players, but there's no future potential for those guys.  And even worse, they're not particularly interesting.  They're perfectly cromulent players, but that's all.  So, boring, and hopeless.  What a combo.

That being said, 2017 might be more interesting.  The younger guys are starting to fill out the roster, and the older guys they've signed are more clearly intended as stopgaps.  And in some cases, those older guys are interesting - Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.  They're not the future, but every time Colon bats is an adventure.  Plus, who doesn't love watching a big guy play baseball?  Knuckleballers are fun too.

I'm not enthused about the new ballpark.  I think it'll be even harder to get there from north Fulton than it was to get to Turner Field.  And don't get me started on the broadcasters.  The quality has fallen so far since the glory days of Skip, Pete, and Ernie....  Anyway, we'll see how it goes.  Maybe I'll have more to say this year.  Maybe this place will continue to be just another zombie page on the internet.