Posted: 9:40 pm Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

A Freeman-Chipper comparison entering Year 4 

By David O'Brien

DARK STAR, Fla. – The deteriorating weather in Atlanta forced us to head south to spring training a couple of days earlier than expected, and I know you folks are really feeling sorry for me about now, right? Nearly 80 degrees here when I arrived.

In all seriousness, stay safe up there in the South and don’t get behind the wheel for the next day or two unless you absolutely can’t avoid it.

Chipper Jones (left) has been one of Freeman's biggest supporters and believers since the big first baseman reached the majors.

Chipper Jones (left) has been one of Freeman’s biggest supporters and believers since the big first baseman reached the majors.

Hopefully the power-outage situation won’t materialize to the degree that they’re fearing it will. Good luck, and hopefully this will be the last nasty blast of the worst winter weather around Atlanta and the region. What a winter, huh? Thank goodness baseball is just about here.

We’ll try to make things a little less boring or brutal if you’re stuck inside for the next couple of days, with baseball talk and a few photos from earlier arrivers after I get out to the ballpark on Wednesday. Remember, pitchers and catchers officially report Thursday and the first workout is Friday, and position players report Feb. 18, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 19.

However, several position players and pitchers have already begun working out at the Lake Buena Vista training camp, including newly minted $135 million man Freddie Freeman and heir apparent primary catcher Evan Gattis.

Young Chipper Jones was a force from the get-go after he reached the majors.

Young Chipper Jones was a force from the get-go after he reached the majors.

Before we go any further, I wanted to share with you a couple of stats I found last week when I was doing stories on Freeman and his ginormous, franchise-record eight-year contract, which easily eclipsed the six-year, $90 million extension that Chipper Jones got for the 2001-2006 seasons as the largest deal in Braves history.

At the time, Chipper’s $90 million deal was the fourth-largest in baseball history.

And speaking of Chipper, he’s part of the stats I’m talking about. Specifically, I was curious as to how Freeman’s first three full seasons compared to the retired Hoss’ first three full seasons in the big leagues. So here we go:

Chipper had exactly 500 hits (in 1,874 PAs) in his first three full seasons (ages 23-25 seasons), with 95 doubles, 74 homers and 307 RBIs in 454 games.

Freeman had 477 hits (in 1,884 PAs) in his first three full seasons (ages 21-23 seasons), with 92 doubles, 67 homers and 279 RBIs in 451 games.

Note: Neither of those stat lines includes brief callups for both players in one previous season before the three full seasons.

The most glaring difference in their stats from the first three seasons was whiffs and walks: Chipper had 275 strikeouts and 236 walks, while Freeman had 392 strikeouts and 183 walks. Also, Chipper obviously ran a lot better than Freeman, even though Chipper had blown out his ACL in spring training of his would-be rookie year and missed a whole season rehabbing. And, yes, Chipper had more raw power.

(Hey, Chipper had better overall stats. The dude’s going to Cooperstown on the first ballot, after all. Mark that down, anyone who questions that. But Chipper also had a much stronger supporting cast. As Chipper told me a couple of springs ago, Freeman and Jason Heyward don’t have the luxury he did of being surrounding by so many established veterans in his early years and being able to get acclimated and grow up without having to be the spokesman for the team or expected to carry so much of the offensive load at the outset of his career.)

Where were we?  Oh, yeah: Chipper’s eight stolen bases as a rookie were one more than Freeman has in his entire career so far. And Chipper raised it to 14 steals in his second year and 20 in his third. However, Freeman’s doubles totals still compared favorably in doubles, because he hits so many line drives that good speed isn’t necessary for him to rumble to second base most of the time.

Each was the NL Rookie of the Year runner-up behind a pitcher — Chipper finished second to former Japanese League star Hideo Nomo and Freeman was second behind teammate Craig Kimbrel.

Chipper made the All-Star team twice in his first three seasons and finished 18th, fourth and ninth in the MVP balloting in those years. Freeman has made one All-Star team and was fifth in the MVP balloting, both in his third season in 2013.

Some pretty interesting similarities, no? Well, at least I thought so.

Oh, one more thing: The most that Chipper earned in salary in any five-year period was just a tick below $70 million during the 2003-2008 seasons, when the future Hall of Famer topped out at $16.06 million, including a prorated share of his signing bonus.

Freeman, in the last five years of his contract, will make $106.5 million in salary alone (not counting any portion of of signing bonus). His straight salary is above $20 million each of those seasons, rising rising from $20.5 million in 2017, the Braves’ first year in their planned new Cobb County ballpark, to $21 million in 2018-2019, and $22 million in 2020-2021.

• Option-less: Rare is the spring training that goes by without talk of this player or that being out of minor-league options, since one or more position battles is usually affected by the situation. A 40-man roster player who is out of minor league options can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers, meaning every other team would have to pass on him.

Four Braves 40-man roster players are out of options: relievers David Carpenter, Cory Gearrin and Anthony Varvaro; utility man Ramiro Pena, and outfielder Jordan Schafer.

Cory Gearrin is one of five  Braves on the 40-man roster who are out of minor-league options, meaning he can't be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.

Cory Gearrin is one of five Braves on the 40-man roster who are out of minor-league options, meaning he can’t be sent to the minors without first clearing waivers.

I would guess than at least four and probably all of them wouldn’t make it through waivers without being claimed by another team if the Braves tried to send one or more of them down. But entering spring training, I’d also expect all five of them to make the Opening Day roster. The only one I could possibly see being exposed to waivers would be Varvaro, and if he looks healty and capable of pitching like he did for much of last season, I wouldn’t expect him to be put on waivers.

By the way, the Braves acquired three of those five via waive claims: Carpenter, Varvaro, and Schafer.

 The Braves’ streaks of ’14: Many if not most of you are well aware that the Braves built their 96-66 record last year in big part due to two tremendous stretches of baseball, one at the start of the season and one at mid-summer. After all, it’s an informed lot that reads the Man in Black blog, am I right. (Heads nod to concur.)

But some of you might not realize just to what extent that was the case. Think about this: The Braves went 12-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 25 home runs to open the season, and went 14-0 with a 2.08 ERA, .293 batting average and 82 runs from July 26 through Aug. 9.

That’s 26-1 with a 1.96 ERA in those 27 games.

In the period between those two streaks, they went 45-44 with a 3.62 ERA and .247 batting average in 89 games. And in the last 50 games of the season and the division series, they were a combined 26-24 with a solid 3.28 ERA but only a .233 batting average.

Outside of their 13-game and 14-game tears, the Braves were a combined 71-68, including the four-game loss to the Dodgers in the division series.

To be fair, most good teams have a few good runs and plenty of mediocre stretches during a typical season. It’s just that the Braves’ surges were a bit extreme, and their offense alarmingly inconsistent, going from being an unstoppable force when they had a handful of hitters going strong during a few stretches, to being entirely underwhelming for extended periods.

For all the talk of them not getting a “true No. 1” starter during the offseason, what the Braves need to be more concerned about is getting better consistency from their lineup in 2014. The pitching is plenty good enough to go deep into the postseason.

• C. Johnson still hungry: You probably saw a couple of stories we’ve written this month about Chris Johnson and how he’s been working out daily at Turner Field and basically trying to do all the things he did last winter before his career-best season. That includes living in Atlanta in a rented house only about 15 minutes from the ballpark, rather than return to the warmth of his native Florida.

Well, anyway, some believe that Johnson’s season will be tough to replicate, citing some advanced metric stats including an unusually high batting average on balls in play. Johnson isn’t among those people, as you might imagine. He and his teammates, who were impressed with him from the beginning of spring training last year, believe he is as good a hitter as the basic numbers say he was last year — .321 average, 34 doubles, 12 homers, .358 OBP.

Already a pretty big dude, he’s added some more noticeable muscle in the upper body. I asked him about that last week at Turner Field.

“Little bigger, little less body fat, little quicker,” he said. “So we’ll see. I’ve been working on quickness, defensive stuff. TP (first-base coach Terry Pendleton) has been here a lot, we’ve been working on that. Lot of footwork, that first-step quickness, some hand stuff.”

There is one offensive number that jumps off the page and will undoubtedly be tough to match — .383. His average against left-handers, which was far and away the best for any major league qualifier.

Johnson, a right-handed hitter who actually hit for a higher average against righties than lefties in the past, focused last spring training on facing lefties, because at the time he thought he’d be in a platoon with Juan Francisco all season.

But when Johnson excelled early and Francisco struggled and piled up too many whiffs between hits, the latter was dropped and Johnson got the full-time 3B job. He hit .383 with a .413 OBP and .526 slugging percentage in 133 at-bats vs. lefties, and .299 with a .339 OBP and .433 slugging in 381 at-bats vs. righties.

He also hit .336 in 119 at-bats with runners in scoring position, including .390 in those situations with two outs. If it weren’t for Freeman and Johnson, the Braves’ pretty bad team numbers with RISP would’ve been horrendous.

Here’s one more stat to consider, to be reminded of how good Johnson was for much of last season: From Opening Day through Aug. 2, he hit .347 (115-for-331) with a .385 OBP and .483 slugging percentage, and the Braves were 58-35 in the games he played in that period.

Johnson hit .273 (50-for-183) with a .309 OBP from Aug. 3 through the end of the regular season, and the Braves were 28-21 in those games.

• Heyward contract details: It got largely overshadowed by the mammoth deal that Freeman signed later the same day, but Jason Heyward’s two-year, $13.3 million contract extension last week was the kind of thing that would’ve made big news any other day during the offseason.

Now it’ll be interesting to see if the Braves approach him again before the deal expires after the 2015 season and before Heyward becomes a free agent. My gut and everything else tells me that now that Heyward is this close to free agency and the Braves didn’t extend him beyond his arbitration years, he’ll wait and test the open market, where some have already predicted he’ll get at least $100 million and perhaps $150 million or more in a deal that rivals or even surpasses Freeman’s.

That remains to be seen, but we’ve obviously seen Heyward show the potential to be every big as big or bigger a run-producer than Freeman. It’s just that Heyward hasn’t done it nearly as frequently, in large part due to injuries, some serious and completely out of his control, others nagging sort of aches and pains, but all disruptive of his career trajectory.

A couple of details about Heyward’s two-year contract: It includes a $1 million signing bonus, payable in two equal installments May 1 and July 1, and salaries of $4.5 million in 2014 and $7.8 million in 2015. There are also potential salary escalators that can raise his pay in 2015, based on performance in 2014.

His 2015 salary can escalate on a points system — $500,000 increase for 20 points and then another $25,000 for each additional point. He can get 10 points each for 502 plate appearances, an All-Star game selection, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and finishing from 11th to 20th in MVP voting. He would earn 15 points for finishing 6th to 10th in the MVP balloting, 25 points for third to fifth, and 35 points for first or second.

Word spread that day at Turner Field among the pitchers and catchers and others who were on hand. (This was before the Freeman contract news became the day’s big story.)

“I think it’s awesome” that Heyward was signed for two years, said Braves pitcher Mike Minor. “He’s a big part of the team, big part of the organization. I think it’s really smart of those guys to lock him up. I know they tried before but now I guess they agreed to something. It’s a big day. Two more years of having the guy on the team for sure and him being comfortable and not having to worry about (a contract).”

And this from Brandon Beachy on Heyward’s signing, “That’s great news. It’s good for everybody.”

• Here’s one by the one and only Robert Johnson, which you can hear by clicking here.

“HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL” by Robert Johnson

I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving
Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson


Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail
And the day keeps on remindin’ me, there’s a hellhound on my trail
Hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail

If today was Christmas eve, if today was Christmas eve
And tomorrow was Christmas day
If today was Christmas eve and tomorrow was Christmas day
All I would need is my little sweet rider
Just to pass the time away, to pass the time away

You sprinkled hot foot powder, mmm, around my door
All around my door
You sprinkled hot foot powder, all around your daddy’s door
It keeps me with ramblin’ mind rider
Every old place I go, every old place I go

I can tell the wind is risin’, the leaves tremblin’ on the tree
Tremblin’ on the tree
I can tell the wind is risin’, leaves tremblin’ on the tree
All I need is my little sweet woman
And to keep my company, hey, hey, hey, hey, my company

2251 comments
TideDawg
TideDawg

Freeman is going to have to lead the league in bimbos nailed to get a true comparison. As far as I know, Freeman has a lot more character than Chipper. However, now that he is a multi-millionaire, he may try to catch up on indiscretions.

ZAZ
ZAZ

Bill Dewitt, Cards Chairman, gives a glimpse into the long-term planning challenges for successful clubs in today's stltoday. Specifically, he discussing how the club uses insurance to mitigate risk and offset player losses and the mechanics involved. No doubt the Braves do many of these things but I rarely find this level of behind-the-scenes detail discussed openly. Anyway, good stuff.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

Well it was fun, Walking Dead time. Yall have a good night. 

ZAZ
ZAZ

Next, we need to lock up Terd, Schafer, and Pastornicki to long-term deals. Without them, little chance for a WS. Also, unload Simmons and JHey in a 3-team deal for Howard and Fielder. We need more fat, big boppers.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

BJ did well in the spring but was likely having the same mechanical issues just with better results. SSS. He did well so we didn't notice any red flags. The coaches and so on probably didn't think it would turn into something that bad over the season.  This spring he will be under a microscope by everyone. 

Old_Man
Old_Man

@Count

Yes, BJ did well last spring.

But I will say that the video DOB posted today shows his left leg much, much quieter than we saw last regular season.  Those were not home run cuts in the video.  Those were gap/double cuts.  That's good for BJ.  The problem, as I recall it reported last year, was that he took advice in batting practice, but could not will himself to repeat it in games.  We'll just have to see how it goes.  But the swing in the video today looks different than the swing last season.

CaptainM
CaptainM

A little NBA pre-game tonight....oh where are my Braves?  Somehow 'Skateboard Pete' not my cup of meat---for real.  The intros now have a 'club' atmosphere....professional sporting event?  Oh yes it's All-Star time and, tonight I am taking what I can get.  In a few weeks 2-26 we get our thing going again vs. Detroit in FL....yep balls and strikes not dogs with mikes.

keyLargo
keyLargo

That's what makes this blog format impossible to keep up with.  Well, atr least one of the reasons.

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

This "new comments" deal at bottom of screen is joke. Come and go before I can click.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

"got them from just casual fans to stat analysts like me"


A fate worse than ..... ok, well, not death. But a fate worse than the Braves moving to Topeka.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

The game is starting to use some of these advanced metrics more. Using the fielding metrics for Gold Glove voting, I believe WAR is involved now with HoF voting. A ton of analyst and such, even GMs to scouts and evaluators look into these things. It's really about how much you factor them. Cause the fact of the matter is that there not going away, there part of the game and will likely become more and more overtime. Eyes, Traditional, and Advanced use them all. Consider them all. 

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

I think all these extensions put Wren near the top for the Best Off Season for a GM. 

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

"That's what we need more fans to be like"

Why?

ZAZ
ZAZ

@StingerSplash Well, I've seen both and almost fell asleep during the Haggard show. I'd suggest Bruce. Next!

TideDawg
TideDawg

@VaBravesFan BJ and Uggla! Those 2 names burned up the airwaves and blogs last year. This is a new season and hope springs eternal. The slate is clean, but it can muddy up in a hurry. Pressure will be great.


Last year I felt like "If these guys would just hit the ball somewhere" they could help out with a few hits. Not so!! Uggla, in particular looked like he was in a "home run" or nothing mentality, and he usually got nothing. I think there's hope for BJ, but Uggla has had this mentality for two years.


I think any player that can make consistent contact, not hammer it, not drive it, not hit line drives, just make contact, can hit .200. Making consistent contact with a round ball and a round bat odds are that 2 out of 10 will drop in for a hit somewhere. The only good thing last year about BJ and Uggla striking out was that they didn't hit into a double play. They led the league in walking back to the dugout.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

*"We"* as in fans didn't notice any red flags. Were not gonna start disecting a guys swing and batting mechanics unless he's playing bad, were not scouts who look for physical info. 

CobbBraveNightmare
CobbBraveNightmare

@CaptainM  

There is NOTHING I wouldn't eat, to avoid the "NBA All-Offense Star Game."

Think of all the most disgusting thing you've ever seen, smelled, tasted. I'd pack it till I yapped!


TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris  lol. Currently "teaching" 3 other ladies I know since I "work" with them in the press box here at KSU... been 3 days so far, but signs are encouraging. I'd just gotten them to believe the "almost anyone can close" thing, then we signed Kimmie (no big deal, fine deal)...


Gonna have some more 'verts

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

Lose Hudson and McCann, counter it with not spending big money on replacing them or going overboard to bring in someone like David Price, but investing in young core players to keep the team competitive for years to come. 

TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris  because then they aren't arrogant "know-it-all's" that are on the wrong side of knowing.... sabermetrics are pretty valid and useful, so harder-core fans should get to know and appreciate (at least some) of these stats.


You don't have to go all out like some (Shaun), but being more like VA and I is a much better compromise.

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

So we can properly worship those who show us the way and the light!

Bat_Masterson
Bat_Masterson

@TheOnlyBravesFan @Bat_Masterson  Well on the one hand I would say, of course not, St Paul, otherwise why would you have been chosen to spread the gospel. On the other I would say, are you sure, how do you know?  

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

I'm sure the coaches and so on noticed the issues last spring, but BJ is a professional ballplayer and it's just spring training, they likely didn't see what happened happen. Figured he'd get out of the funk (naturally a streaky player) but  instead mechanics just got worse and worse. 

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

@TheOnlyBravesFan @LumanHarris  See perfect example right there! I'm not a SABR disciple... I don't believe anyone can close games... But I understand why TOBF and others think that. 

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@TheOnlyBravesFan @LumanHarris  So, you're saying you're smarter than Frank Wren? Because if you read the stories today, he quite clearly ridiculed the "almost anyone can close" theory.

TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  I'm the furthest thing from one, ask any of my twitter peeps or my real-life friends, I do my best to not offend.... I've been told ladies, women, gals are all fine...


But, my apologies regardless

TideDawg
TideDawg

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan To be a closer you have to think like a closer. That's why starting pitchers have a hard time closing a game. John Smoltz being the exception. His mindset was phenomenal when it came to changing gears. Also, there are great closers that can't close more than 3 outs, although Kimbrell, at times, did it successfully....because he wanted to do it.

keyLargo
keyLargo

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  


Luman - only someone not "experienced" would talk about that anyone can close BS.  I'll tell you a few who can't close.  Chris Reitsma, Joe Boever, Al Hrbosky, Gene Garber to mention a few.  Anyone who has been through the agony of the ninth inning with a closer that can't close would never make that statement.

TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  PR move for the fans.... and maybe that's just an area where Frank has to be more convinced to truly believe his... He's actually got to sell this to the fans, I don't.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

@LumanHarris @VaBravesFan  That would be one helluva surprise. But I put the chances of that happening at under 1%. Wren invested 4 million into a hurt Gavin Floyd with another 5 million in incentives. They seem really confident in Beachy, and then have Wood, Hale, Garcia for options. 

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@TheOnlyBravesFan @Bat_Masterson @LumanHarris  I think what "baseball as a whole" needs and cares about are fans who enjoy going to the games and watching on TV. I doubt a baseball exec anywhere, anytime has ever thought, "Geez, if only these people would get into saber more"


TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  hmm :/ Well, I've helped sway VA, as well as several of my twitter peeps.... (females too!... got them from just casual fans to stat analysts like me)....


I just try to spread the good news, and outside of here, Ive had a fairly good success rate at influencing others to see the light.

LumanHarris
LumanHarris

@TheOnlyBravesFan @LumanHarris  I have no wish to deny you the enjoyment you derive from the creation and study of subjective formulas that you think help you understand the game. Have at it, revel in it, roll around in it, cover yourself up in it. .... But don't be so foolish as to not realize that 99 percent of people who care about baseball – including many of those inside the game – could not give two flips about your "wisdom."

TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  or the folly of old age for those who refuse to acknowledge the validity of sabermetrics. All we want to do is know more about the game, not continue to use age old stats

TheOnlyBravesFan
TheOnlyBravesFan

@LumanHarris @TheOnlyBravesFan  some that embrace only sabermetrics and not any traditional stat while being overly jerkish about it are arrogant know-it-alls as well.... but they're at least more on the correct side of knowing.