Posted: 8:33 am Monday, March 31st, 2014

For openers, Braves must play well behind makeshift rotation 

By David O'Brien

MILWAUKEE – It’s Opening Day. The outfield grass is immaculate at (fill in any major league ballpark name), and the burgers and brats cooking on the grills down in the stadium concourse will create the most incredible smells you could ever savor.

But if these Braves don’t play well behind their makeshift starting rotation early on, it could get ugly.

Julio Teheran starts season opening at Milwaukee on Monday.

Julio Teheran starts Opening Day at Milwaukee on Monday.

Wait, hold it. I’m better than that. No abrupt transitions on Opening Day. We need romance, anecdotes, tales of renewal and rebirth and hope abounding in 30 major league cities from sea to sea.

This will have to suffice instead.

My first year as a major league beat writer was 1995. That year I shared the Marlins beat at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel with a true pro, Gordon Edes, who talked me into coming over from Dolphins coverage, then soon left for the greener grass covering the Red Sox for The Boston Globe, leaving the beat in my decidedly unstable (at that time) and young (again, at that time) hands.

The Marlins had those of-an-era, all-teal caps and batting helmets, which looked a bit Little League but looked better than the current Marlins cap with the huge, sparkly M. (And what’s with the sparkly accents on the Marlins’ jersey numbers? Look closely. Cheesy.)

That Florida team lost its first four games, with starters John Burkett, Mark Gardner, Bobby Witt and Patt Rapp all taking L’s. It also lost 13 of its first 16, including being swept by Atlanta in South Florida at what was then still Joe Robbie Stadium, losing to Maddux, Glavine and Woodall. (Wait, what? Woodall?  That’s reliever Brad Woodall).

Those Marlins had Jeff Conine at his peak (.302/.379/.520, 25 homers and 105 RBIs), Gary Sheffield hitting .314 with a .465 OBP and 1.054 OPS (but only for 63 games due to injury), aging Terry Pendleton still hitting .290 with 32 doubles and 14 homers, Greg Colbrunn hitting .277 with 23 homers, Kurt Abbott with seven triples and 17 homers, and the defensively superb Charles Johnson behind the plate. In other words, they had some good pieces. But their best starting pitcher was Rapp.

They finished fourth at 67-76, 22-1/2 games out of first place and in that truncated season, which started late because of the strike/lockout that had also shortened the previous season and wiped out the 1994 postseason.

Meanwhile, the Braves not only cranked out another division title that season, but also the NL pennant and World Series championship, the first – and still only – major professional sports title in Atlanta history. Bobby Cox’s Braves, known to get off to sluggish starts before catching fire by early summer, were 20-17 on June 4 that year. Then they went 70-37 the rest of the way, pounding out 125 homers in those last 107 games and finishing with 90 wins in a 144-game season.

Four Braves – David Justice, Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko – hit between 23 and 27 homers that season. But even more impressive was the pitching staff led by Greg Maddux, who went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA in 209-2/3 innings over 28 starts; Tom Glavine, who was 16-7 with a 3.08 ERA in 198-2/3 innings, and John Smoltz, who was 12-7 with a 3.18 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 192-2/3 innings.

You can do some pretty good things with a trio of starters doing that kind of work, don’t ya think?

Alex Wood has moved quickly from "attaboy" status to being counted upon as Braves No. 2 starter early on in injury-plagued rotation.

Alex Wood has moved quickly from “attaboy” status to being counted upon as Braves No. 2 starter early on in injury-plagued rotation.

I came to the Braves beat at the AJC during the 2002 season, another of those years when Cox’s team started out slow, then bulldozed opponents for much of the summer. They were 19-21 with a solid 3.28 ERA and 41 homers but only a .241 batting average. Then they flipped the switch, as they were wont to do, and went 82-38 the rest of the way, with a 3.08 ERA, .266 team batting average and 123 homers in those 101 games.

A year later, the Braves started out 4-8 with a 6.39 ERA, with Maddux absorbing three of those losses and Russ Ortiz and Horacio Ramirez two apiece. Then that team apparently realized the season had started, and hit the figurative ‘on’ switch. They went 97-53 the rest of the way, belting 222 homers in those 150 games and averaging 5.7 runs in that torrid stretch. Think about that – 222 homers in 150 games.

Six Braves hit more than 20 homers in that ’03 season and four drove in more than 105 runs, paced by Javy Lopez (43 homers, 109 RBIs), Sheffield (39/132), Andruw Jones (36/116), and Chipper (27/106).

And then a year after that, in 2004, they did the slow-start thing yet again: They went 17-21 to start, then 79-45 the rest of the way while hitting .276 with 145 homers in 124 games.

You know what else the Braves did in each of those three seasons? They lost in the division series,  part of their current postseason skid of eight consecutive series and a Wild Card game. Yikes. But that’s another subject for another day.

Today, it’s about Opening Day, and my long-winded route to making this point: The Braves have shown in the past, time and again, that they can overcome sluggish-or-worse starts through 12, 20, even 40 games, to still win the division.

But the thing is, this season is different for a couple of reasons.

Those Braves teams we cited above didn’t have a division opponent with quite the potential as the current Nats. And this Braves pitching staff, as currently constituted, before the hoped-for and planned addition and/or returns of several starters in the next few weeks, is not good enough to even tread water if the hitters and defenders don’t do good work behind them.

 

What I’m saying is, if the Braves don’t hit and field well in the first few weeks of the season, before the rotation is fully formed and rotating, and particularly before Ervin Santana and Mike Minor join it, then there’s a real chance things could get ugly in the opening weeks with a rotation that includes David Hale (two major league games) and Aaron Harang, who’s now in his sixth team in six years.

The schedule is friendly in that only 12 of the Braves’ first 40 are against teams that had winning records in 2013. But that includes six head-to-head meetings with the Nationals in the first two weeks, including three later this week after the Braves start out with three here against the Brewers beginning this afternoon.

Two series in two weeks with the Nationals, and you can be sure that Werth, Harper and the rest of them have discussed a desire to do to the Braves what the Braves did to them last season, when Atlanta rocked them early, including a sweep at Washington. They made a statement right away and took charge of the division race.

Let’s be clear: These Braves have a good lineup, but it’s not one that has the consistent power hitters to beat opponents into submission the way some of those Braves teams did in the past, when the veteran-laden Braves could shrug their shoulders during a slow first few weeks (or more) of the season and say, it’s only a matter of time, boys.

This Braves team has three potentially elite hitters in Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, but Freeman is the only one who’s done it with consistency over the past three seasons. Heyward hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and Upton, his 12 homers last April notwithstanding, hasn’t been able to avoid long stretches where he slips into the background and has almost no major impact.

So these Braves need to take care of the other parts of the game – they need good hitting, sound situational hitting, and strong defense – until they can get back the kind of pitching staff they envisioned.  Otherwise, manager Fredi Gonzalez could be put in a position of wearing out that bullpen early in a lot of one-run games, or seeing a lot of two- or three-run deficits get bigger in the late innings.

And the Braves could find themselves five or six games behind the Nationals by the end of April, trying to play catch-up all summer.

The Braves of the past have said it’d be nice to get off to a good start, but if they don’t it’s not going to ruin their season. And that’s true again – if they get back the kind of pitching staff they envision. If Minor is healthy, and Santana pitches like he did last season for the Royals and not like he did with the Angels in 2012, and if Gavin Floyd is better than just a .500, plus-4 ERA aging veteran coming off TJ surgery, etc.

But if they get something less than that from that pitching staff,  playing catch-up won’t be easy with an inconsistent lineup that isn’t chock-full of consistent impact hitters and a bullpen that could see a lot of early work.

So it’s important. Playing well early – hitting and defending well – is important behind a makeshift rotation the Braves hope can hold it together until the cavalry arrives.

OK, it’s early. Day game, and the parking lot at Miller Park fills up early here for the opener every year. Cheeseheads love to tailgate anytime. So that’s the closest thing I’ve got to rebirth and romance this morning before finding more coffee and heading over to the ‘yard in the retractable dome.

Braves Opening Day lineup

  1. Heyward RF
  2. BUpton CF
  3. Freeman 1B
  4. CJohnson 3B
  5. JUpton LF
  6. Uggla 2B
  7. Gattis C
  8. Simmons SS
  9. Teheran RH

• Let’s close with a logical choice from The Killer, the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis. Click here to see him sing it.

“WHAT’S MADE MILWAUKEE FAMOUS” by Jerry Lee Lewis

It’s late and she is waiting, and I know I must go home,
But every time I start to leave, they play another song,
Then someone buys another round and whatever drinks are free,

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis


What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.

Baby’s begged me not to go, so many times before,
She said love and happiness can’t live behind those swingin’ doors,
Now she’s gone and I’m to blame, too late I finally see,
What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.

Baby’s begged me not to go, so many times before,
She said love and happiness can’t live behind those swingin’ doors,
Now she’s gone and I’m to blame, too late I finally see,
What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.

What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me,
What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.
What made Milwaukee famous has made a loser out of me.

 

1610 comments
raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

Well, my work is done. I have gotten Shaun agitated...not really so hard. 


Here's my view on the controversy. Stats of all kinds contribute to our overall knowledge and understanding. They are a valuable tool towards determining all of these controversial subjects that we toss around here...and I do not disregard the opinion of someone who quotes and ascribes to these stats.  


HOWEVER,  there are also factors which cannot be quantified by numbers. Intangible things that make a team /player better (or worse). It seems to me that the majority of stat geeks completely disregard these factors...because you cannot quantify them in their perfect world. (I will not make a judgement here on whether Shaun fits in this category). 


You must consider all factors when reaching a conclusion. Who was the true "MVP of the AL" last year? I don't really care enough to make a conclusive judgement, though it is fun to get those who do care riled up. I will say though, that value is both objective facts, and subjective factors, as viewed by the individual. 

Bat_Masterson
Bat_Masterson

There is a specific number of grains of sand on every beach.  It's impossible to know that number completely.  People can make educated guesses.  But there is a specific number that is an objective fact. _ Shaun

HaHaHa..... No there is not.  Have you ever been to a beach? 

ncscoots
ncscoots

Just to change the subject, I wanted to let you guys know that there are houses down in my area that you can rent for both the US Open golf tournaments to held at Pinehurst this year, if you plan to attend..  A lovely home with oversized rooms, wet bar, and views of the 8th and 9th greens from every room in the house: $80K for the men's tourney, $20K for the women's. If you prefer a little exercise, instead, a nice little place about a mile from the course: only $40K for the men's, $10K for the women's.

Discounts available if you book both tourneys, of course. :-)

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Am I understanding this right, the sabr-disbelievers argue the fact that the Braves won 96 games last year does not mean they were a 96-win team? SOMETHING propelled them to 96 wins, and it wasn't BJ Upton or Tim Hudson's charity work or Chipper's tweets.

Barves_Loss_Agian
Barves_Loss_Agian

BRAKING NEWS:


Tigre Wood 2 miss the Masters. Now I no I will be watchin it this year. Never liekd the guy. 

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I have a question.  I hope those answering will take the tact there are never stupid questions.  Anyway, if I were to add all the WAR values for each player that participated in the Braves' season last year, would that number add up to 96, the total number of wins the Braves achieved last year?  Please advise as whether I am not thinking correctly.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

(With apologies to Rick C) I contend that there are factors which can make a player "valuable" to a team, which cannot be defined by just saber calculation of "wins", or WAR. Some are "intangibles", which, of course, the metric crowd either disregards, or tries to say that they are included in their calculations. 


Among these, but by no means exclusively, are things like teaching/coaching/encouraging other players, especially young ones; promoting positive attitude in the locker room, bench and field (you know..."the power of positive thinking"); promoting harmony...or esprit d'corps, if you will. (which the stat crowd regards as a non-factor).


Teams also value things like good PR and non-disruptive or embarrassing behavior, and loyalty.


Not everything that makes a player valuable to a team can be objectively quantified.


Oh, and the award is not the "player with the highest WAR award"...nor does it restrict the voters to only objective, quantifiable factors. 

noleee
noleee

shucks, no wonder they caint score any runs...not that runs or wins actually mean anything

DOB
DOB moderator

It's currently 27 degrees here in Milwaukee, 75 and sunny in Atlanta.

noleee
noleee

get Fister, we will win 100

MFin04
MFin04

Trade for that Fish guy from the LA Dogers or Angles!

noleee
noleee

It's not completely knowable but it's not subjective..Shaun


doesn't get much sillier than this...

noleee
noleee

@Bat_Masterson  

I'm not sure if Shaun ever gets out of the basement to see what beaches and ball games are all about

Rabbit_Maranville1914
Rabbit_Maranville1914

@ncscoots  

Wouldn't ya know I just conned my wife into letting me pay a landscaper to do some yard-work I've been meaning to get to. Otherwise, I would naturally jump at such an opportunity. :-)

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@ncscoots I'm a little short this month.  And next.  And next.  ;-)

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I am not arguing anything.  Just trying to understand how WAR correlates to the bottom line, actual wins.  I am a novice on all this advanced metric stuff.

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I thought from the intro that this would be a post about another GM recall.

HugoZHackenbush
HugoZHackenbush

@Tumbledown  You have to add the WAR total to the baseline replacement level win total (I think it's around 52 games, but I'm not certain. Doing that, the Braves WAR came pretty close to 96...once again, I'm going by memory. Some teams were not so close...

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I guess the followup inquiry would be this: if WAR were truly objective, should the Braves' total WAR last year total 96? 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@raleighbravefan  No one thinks the award should go to the player with the highest WAR, per se.  In fact, regarding the Trout-Cabrera stuff, many argued for Trout without using WAR.  The case for Trout, without WAR, is very easy to make.  


As far as intangibles, I never saw anyone make the argument that Cabrera's intangibles were so much better than Trout's.  And would anyone actually feel comfortable making that argument?  I think this is usually just a cop-out so that voters who vote for a certain guy over another don't have to build a legitimate case for that guy.  It's something you can't point to after you've made up your mind that no one can prove or disprove to any degree whatsoever.  

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@noleee  Shaun is proof that it is possible to be both OCD and anal retentive. Oh, and a bet condescending, as well. 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@noleee  Right, there are no facts out there that we can't completely know.  Everything is knowable if it's fact.  Doesn't get much sillier than that.

Jeff_R
Jeff_R

@noleee @Bat_Masterson How many stars in the universe?  Finite amount?  Yep, if the universe is what we know it to be.  Will we ever know how many stars?  Nope. 

noleee
noleee

@Jeff_R  If so, so what?  The number is unknowable.


and the guess will be subjective too......

ncscoots
ncscoots

@HugoZHackenbush @ncscoots  Divide career winnings by number of events multiplied by total strippers per city plus a weighting factor for being called "Bubba".

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

Well, evidently it is ok to the powers that be to post under your name, but it does not pass muster to refer to you by the first part of your name.

noleee
noleee

@HugoZHackenbush @Tumbledown  

it is a current best guess as to value, it is always an approximation, sometimes close and sometimes not so close. a math metric that attempts torank players in value. it might be the best we currently have but there is nothing "factual" about it. like any other metric there isd always gonna be a window of unreliability

_Murph_
_Murph_

@ShaunATL   Is someone's win value a fact?  If so, why does it differ depending on the website you happen to be on?


ncscoots
ncscoots

@EMWTK  Though I guess if one is willing to drop $80K for a week, one is not likely to shy away from the cost of the Blue Label. :-)

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I guess the plural version is less objectionable than the singular.  Anyway, thanks for your input Maggots! 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@noleee @HugoZHackenbush @Tumbledown  Agreed.  There will always be a window of unreliability.  Yet there are some who think it's worthless because of that, though that's the case with nearly ever metric, every formulation, every scouting report, every expression of a baseball player or team.

noleee
noleee

@HugoZHackenbush @Tumbledown  

and it is really aout an individual player, which in a team sport allows for "unknowable, unprovable" (gasp) aspects of how the team as a whole will do

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Tumbledown  WAR is an estimate of value.  There are certainly things that lead to wins that can't be accounted for and there are things that lead to wins and losses that have nothing to do with what the players have done.  An exaggerated example would be a ball hitting a clump of dirt and taking a bad hop that leads to a double or something.  So there are all types of reasons why WAR might not match up with a team's actual win total.  But historically it is going to come very close. 


WAR is not any less objective than other ways to estimate player value.  It's probably more objective than most other ways folks try to determine players' values.  

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

But I guess people like Shaun would say that WAR (no matter the particular incarnation) would serve to provide better information in explaining how the Braves reached 96 wins.  But, being that WAR is theoretical and not truly objective, the WAR metric cannot completely account for the 96 wins and each player's contributions thereto.  Just trying to understand. 

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I doubt the Cabrera supporters advanced their arguments just like that, Shaun.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@raleighbravefan The assumption shouldn't be that Cabrera was more valuable because Trout supporters are a bunch of statheads.  No.  You should actually be able to show that Cabrera was more valuable, build a case for Cabrera.  


The case for Trout is simple.  He was almost worth as much with the bat, he was better in the field at a tougher defensive position and he was better on the basepaths, therefore he was worth more in terms of wins to his team.


The case for Cabrera seemed to be, he was on a first-place team, he won the Triple Crown, and that Trout's supporters were a bunch of statheads and people who use WAR, so that guy shouldn't be MVP.  No mention of value or whether Cabrera provided more value or how much more value or anything.  



ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@raleighbravefan The whole Trout-Cabrera thing is that if you provided any sort of argument for Trout, whether you used something like WAR or not, you were accused of being a stathead and people attempted to discredit you in that way.  


I can't speak for my "ilk," whoever they are.  I can just speak for myself.  I'm going to take in information, reason through things and come to a conclusion.  Maybe it's right, maybe it's not.  But if someone can provide better information and better reasoning that leads to a different conclusion, I'll be glad to change my mind on anything.  Folks arguing for Cabrera over Trout just need to bring better info and better reasoning to the table.  I'm certainly open to the possibility that Cabrera was more valuable.  But the info and reasoning suggest it was Trout.  If you have info and reasoning that suggest Cabrera was more valuable, provide it so that I can be convinced.  Don't just attempt to discredit me by calling me a stathead or something.  Step up and show me that Cabrera was more valuable.  Get better in terms of finding information and reasoning and presenting it all, and I'll be glad to change my view.

Tumbledown
Tumbledown

I guess the computer program known as SHAUN (Saber Haters Are Ugly Neantherthals) has a glitch.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@ShaunATL @raleighbravefan @_Murph_  The probalem with you and your ilk, at least RE the MVP discussion... is that you want to dictate the criteria, and are unwilling to consider any other opinion...because only your opinion is, and can be, the right one.

raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@ShaunATL @raleighbravefan @_Murph_  And, of course, voters who went for Miggy over Trout were "just eyeballing it and thinking 'this player seems more valuable than this other player'". I'm rolling my eyes again. 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@raleighbravefan @_Murph_  Never said that educated guesses never include any subjective factors.  But some ways to estimate or to guess a player's value are more subjective than others.  WAR is less subjective than just eyeballing it and thinking, "this player seems more valuable than this other player."  It's not a matter of objective versus subjective.  It's a matter of determining through the least subjective means possible.  

_Murph_
_Murph_

@ShaunATL   Absolutely... but that further illustrates my point that making a declarative statement about one side or the other being a fact holds no value.  Yes, one or the other is a fact, but...

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@_Murph_ It's a fact that there is or is not life elsewhere in the universe.  We'll likely never know which way it goes.  But one way or another, one side or another is factual.  



raleighbravefan
raleighbravefan

@ShaunATL @_Murph_  But, of course, "educated guesses" of a players value can NEVER include ANY subjective factors (as you define "value"), such as the factors I mentioned in an above post. 


(rolling my eyes now).

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Lew06 @_Murph_ @noleee  If we had enough information, we could conceivably determine a player's win value, just like we can determine how many grains of sand there are.  But there's probably never going to be a time when we can possibly do either.  


WAR is not any different than WHIP, ERA, K/9, H/9, etc.  WAR is just a more complicated formulation than those others.  It takes into account more stuff.  Aside from that, it's no different.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@_Murph_ Right.  If an educated guess suggest one player is a lot more valuable than another, it's likely fact but we can't really say it's fact, although at a certain point, it's probably so likely that we can feel comfortable claiming it as fact.  For example, all the educated guesses suggest that Freeman was a lot more valuable last season than, say, Reed Johnson.  The spread is so great that we can feel pretty confident saying that's fact.  I suppose it's still possible that Reed Johnson provided so much immeasurable and intangible value that he was more valuable than Freeman.  That's just so highly unlikely that we can feel pretty confident saying that's not true.  



_Murph_
_Murph_

@ShaunATL   So, what you're saying is that a player's win value is a fact, even though we have no way to know exactly what that win value actually is... 

I'm not sure you understand the meaning of the word "fact".

Lew06
Lew06

@ShaunATL @Lew06 @_Murph_ @noleee  No, it would be extremely difficult to count them all, but it COULD conceivably be done - very simply in the long run, by counting - a VERY objective way to come to a conclusion.


Batting average (no matter the weight you choose to give it) is objective. WHIP is objective and so are ERA, K/9, H/9 which are either figured by simple addition or are averages.


WAR however can not be objective as one (whoever tht may be) CHOOSES what is included and what weight it is given. That is subjective and can be nothing else.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Lew06 @_Murph_ @noleee  Sure it it.  There is a specific number of grains of sand on every beach.  It's impossible to know that number completely.  People can make educated guesses.  But there is a specific number that is an objective fact.  We can't know if there is life on other planets.  But there is or there isn't and that's objective fact, one way or another.  We just can't know it.  

_Murph_
_Murph_

@ShaunATL   Indeed... but a guess, no matter how educated, is not a fact until it is proven as such.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@_Murph_ Someone's win value is objective fact.  We can't know completely what it is but a player is worth a specific number of wins in a given season or over a given time frame.  All versions of the measure of win value (WAR, WARP, Win Shares, etc.) are estimates and approximations based on information we can and do know that help baseball teams score and prevent runs.  Yes, they are all very educated guesses, @noleee.  That's a good way to put it.  They are superior to just assuming and "I think this player was probably more valuable than that other player" without any sort of education that goes into such a guess.  Educated guesses are better than just guesses.  The more you have to go on, the more you can take into account, the better your guess.  

_Murph_
_Murph_

@noleee   But... one must be a fact, so... which one?