Friday, June 09, 2006


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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Braves getting consistent at something

As inconsistent this season as late-career Woody Allen, the Braves recently have been utterly predictable in one sense – when a critical pitch or set of pitches is at hand, the home team is going to fail and the other team is going to come through like the ’27 Yankees crossed with the early ’70s A’s.

It’s amazing how many games, even some that end up lopsided, turn on a few pitches. Take tonight. When we left the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth, my dread was as sure as if it were October. Not the intensity of the dread, mind you, just the certainty of impending defeat. After that, I figured the chances of a Houston victory were about 90 percent. (The game’s not over as I write, so I hope I end up looking the fool.)

But tonight’s outcome again hinged on a few plays. Andy Pettitte made a perfect full-count pitch to strike out Todd Pratt, then Lance Berkman made a good throw home to nail Francoeur for an inning-ending double play. Poof. Rally over.

Minutes later, Thomson made a most imperfect two-strike pitch to Berkman. He hits it into the right field seats. Poof, 5-2. Game, most likely, over.

Again I hope I eat these words, but I’m already starting to resign myself to a down season. You can’t win forever, I’m thinking. It has to end some time. How would we want it to end? Have we forgotten what it’s like to root for a mediocre team? I believe I have. Getting reacquainted with that is so far not a lot of fun.

-- CD

JS must move, and fast

Where have we seen this hackneyed storyline? Team gets solid starting pitching, scratches out a run here and there to stay close entering the spooky late innings. Mediocre reliever X comes in, quickly populates the bases. Mediocre reliever Y jogs in, surrenders extra base hit and close game becomes much less close.

The only relief is for the opposing closer, who heaves huge sigh of same. No need anymore to intensely pinpoint every pitch lest a mistake tie the game. With a three-run lead, pitching is easier.

Unless JS does something soon, we’ll only see more of this deflating plot, or variations that have the team clinging to a small lead and losing it or holding a big lead that’s hacked to shreds. After last night’s rerun, the NL East standings show the home team closer to the Marlins, whom we’re 6.5 games ahead, than the Mets, whom we’re 7 games behind. The Bravos today are nearer the Natspos, 2 games up, than the Phillies, 3.5 behind.

Yeah, it’s early. Sure, there are 102 games left. But say the Mets, who have a .603 winning percentage, play just .520 ball from here. That would give them 89 wins. To match that, the Bravos need to play at a .588 clip, 60-42 from here. If the Mets continue their present pace, which isn’t out of the question, our boys would need to go a blistering 69-33 (.676) to tie them at 98 wins.

The Braves have surmounted bigger deficits. Who can forget the .740, 54-19 post all-star break run of 1993 that overcame a 10-game July 22 deficit? That was then. This is now. That ’93 team had a stronger bullpen – Stanton emerged as a reliable closer after McMichael had held the fort in the first half – a rock-solid rotation and a more consistent offense than this one. That team traded for a bona fide star slugger, Fred McGriff, to ignite that second-half charge.

This team appears to have little chance to import a player of that caliber. We could get Dontrelle Willis and that will take some pressure off the pen and give us a top 3 to match most any. But does anyone really believe that would be enough to make this pen reliable in a pennant race or the playoffs? Maybe Ken Ray keeps closing well. That still leaves the 7th and 8th innings. And who’s to say how healthy Smoltz will be come October, if there is one? He’s throwing 100-plus pitches every start.

Sorry to be a merchant of gloom.

The Office, as you might have gathered, has the utmost respect for JS as a GM. His methods have worked beautifully for 15 years. This is a new year. Not investing more in the bullpen in the offseason, and maybe the belief that any journeyman who wears the Tomahawk will instantly get late-inning outs, has already cost this team a few wins. The pen isn’t the only problem but it’s easily the biggest one. (Another one: Betemit needs five at-bats a night, not one. He’s probably right now the fourth or fifth best hitter on the team.) If JS doesn’t acquire one or maybe two good relievers before the all-star break, this season is toast.

-- CD

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The next wave

I'm already a big fan of the Bravos' first round draft pick:

There was no question about which major league team Cody Johnson wanted to be drafted by Tuesday.

"I grew up watching the Braves on TV," the left-handed hitting outfielder from Mosley High School in Panama City, Fla., said. "It's the only team I've ever really rooted for and it's the one place I've always wanted to play."

Braves Scouting Director Roy Clark is bully on Johnson's potential as a hitter.

At just 17, the 6-foot-4 Johnson is a long way from being ready for the majors. But the Braves like his chances of eventually getting there.

"In our opinion, Cody was the premier power bat in the draft," Clark said.

After drafting Joey Devine last year, the Braves returned to their familiar pattern of selecting high school pitchers with their next two picks -- righty Cory Rasumus and left-hander Steve Evarts.


Sigh of relief

Very encouraging win tonight. First, Ken Ray showed that he might just be able to handle the closer's role. Even more impressively, Horacio posted his third consecutive quality start, battling through eight innings in a MUST-win game. Frankly, I had pretty much counted Ramirez out, but Smoltzie told me in an interview this offseason to expect "Ho" to make a big comeback this season.

On a recent Braves telecast Don Sutton provided some more insight into Ramirez's resurgence, saying that, of all Braves pitchers, he'd likely be the one to benefit from Leo's departure. Horacio was never comfortable with the low and away approach preached by the Bravos' former pitching coach, Sutton said, and that was evident tonight as Ramirez successfully pounded Nats' hitters inside.

I've been worried about our starters since before the season began, but Horacio is starting to alleviate those concerns. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing Dontrelle in a Braves uniform. You might've heard and read the talk about a Salty for D-Train trade the last few days in the local media, but the Office was speculating about said possibility months ago.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Twist of fate

In no way do I intend to belittle the passing of former umpire Eric Gregg, but it's hard to ignore the coincidence that, on the night of his death, Livan Hernandez is pitching against the Braves. Gregg, you'll remember, framed a strike zone almost as large as his belly while working behind the plate during Livan's 15 K performance against the home team in Game 5 of the 1997 NLCS.

Hernandez was a Marlin then, and Florida went on to win the series in six games. Braves fans haven't forgotten.

It was downhill from there for Gregg, who, along with 21 other umpires, resigned in 1999 as part of a failed labor strategy orchestrated by then-union director Richie Phillips. While some who resigned were later rehired by MLB, Gregg ended up judging chicken wing eating contests in Philadelphia.

He may have been a terrible ump, but Gregg was, by most accounts, a good guy. He leaves a wife and four children behind.


The next nobodies

With Atlanta's pitching scuffling mightily, expect to see some new imports boarding the Richmond shuffle in the weeks ahead. Two possible candidates:

*Phil Stockman -- The former D'Backs prospect is dominating Triple A hitters, compiling a stingy 1.09 ERA in 24.2 IP, with only 7 HA and 34 K's. The only negative is his control (10 walks).

*Kevin Barry -- Considered a journeyman type before this season, the converted reliever continues to post one quality start after another. Besides a 2.04 ERA, he's put up solid secondary numbers, with 55 K's and only 45 HA in 57.1 IP. Again, control has been somewhat of a problem (22 walks).

Meanwhile, Chuck James is pitching decently as he racks up innings in Richmond. Look for him to make his debut as a big league starter in the near future.

A darkhorse: Mississippi prospect Matt Wright, who's healthy again and pitching lights out (4-2, 2.28 ERA, 43.1 IP, 31 HA, 16 BB and 50 K's) for Jeff Blauser's club.


Bobby goes ballistic

Not really, but this as close as he gets --

"That's probably the worst series we've ever had here," the Atlanta manager said after the Arizona Diamondbacks completed their domination of the Braves with a 9-3 rout Sunday at Turner Field.

I was in the Braves' clubhouse yesterday, and while it's been a bleak weekend I didn't sense much pessimism from the local 25. Fans may be panicking, and rightly so, but Bobby's an expert at keeping his team believing. This season is shaping up to be his most challenging, and that goes double for JS and the front office.

BTW, a reporter who covers the team told me there's talk of giving Betemit a shot at first base. One way or the other, the smart money's on Wilson playing regularly come the All-Star break. Whether that's in Atlanta or somewhere else remains to be seen.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

NL Best?

I'm still not sold on the Diamondbacks, despite their dominance over the Bravos the past few weeks. However, I am bully on the boys in blue, so much so that I rate the Dodgers as the team to beat in the Senior Circuit.

Better than the Cards? Sure, I'm always shortchanging Tony LaRussa's club, mainly because of Tony LaRussa. But regardless of the severity of Albert Pujols' injury, I'm becoming convinced Grady Little's squad will emerge as the class of the NL.

That's assuming they get another starting pitcher, but if any team has the goods to acquire Zito or Dontrelle, it's the Dodgers, who have baseball's best farm system.

Already OF's Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have shown they belong in the bigs, which should insulate them from the annual J.D. Drew injury sure to come. They also have another highly regarded prospect just promoted from Las Vegas, Joel Guzman, who can play several positions.

And with young stud Willy Aybar performing soldily at 3B, the Dodgers look to have considerable depth on the infield, as well. Plus, they're about to get Cesar Izturis back (another solid trading chip) off the DL. They've got speed up and down the order and they're strong defensively. Other top prospects, such as lefty starter Chad Billingsley and 1B James Loney, are progressing nicely at Triple A.

Give them another starter -- Billingsley might prove to be the answer -- and I think the Dodgers are certain to make the playoffs. Hard to believe they've turned it around so quickly, but as of now a Los Angeles-Boston World Series seems a decent bet. Imagine those subplots, with Grady and Nomah returning to Fenway in October.

Naturally I hope that doesn't happen, but I'm not exactly optimistic about the home team right now.


All or nothing

Since last we met, the Braves have lost thrice, not won, made Damion Easley and Tony Clark, a pair of utility players, look like Ruth and Gehrig and further solidified themselves as a boom-and-bust team.

Jeff Francoeur, who has a paltry .260 on base percentage but is on pace to hit about 30 homers and knock in 110, personifies this club. The 06 Bravos are so far a whiff or longball club: 10-14 in April, 18-11 in May, 0-4 in June. We already have two losing streaks of four games and one of five games, and a four-game win streak.

The home team has scored in double figures seven times but allowed double-digit runs eight times. By contrast, the Mets have scored 10 or more just three times but have allowed double digits but once, to the Braves. It seems the home team has trouble blending hitting and pitching. Nine times we’ve posted five or more runs and lost; our rivals in Flushing have done that four times.

While the home team remains among the top three National League clubs in runs, we’ve been limited to 3 or fewer scores 23 times. The Mets, on the other hand, are well down the rankings in runs scored, but have posted three or fewer 20 times. This Bravos club simply must start making more contact – only Milwaukee and Florida have fanned more -- moving runners, bunting, pitching more consistently early, and late, in games. Then there's the semi-regular defensive blunder, not always an error but a missed cutoff man or clunky would-be double play that becomes a fielder's choice.

Back to Easley and Clark. Those two hit six home runs in this four-game sweep, more than the entire Braves team. In the season’s first 52 games, they had totaled five homers. As for the cripple bullpen, current semi-closer Ken Ray had his worst outing last night to ensure that a huge comeback was moot. Today former closer Reitsma had a similar ninth to snuff out another, albeit smaller, comeback attempt.

Chip Caray said on the radio the Braves hadn’t been swept in four since the Phillies did it in 1995. That team won the World Series. It’s nigh ludicrous to suggest a repeat from the 06 edition as presently constituted.

-- CD

Friday, June 02, 2006

Novel idea -- baseball night at the baseball park

Wednesday night the crowd did the wave in the third inning. No half inning passes in silence: Cartoon tools and water heaters hop around bases or pitch and hit on the vast center field screen. Hot chicks in Braves shirts and little shorts exhort fans while a fat blond guy with a butt cut asks people from Florida or North Carolina or Stockbridge trivia questions. There’s an endless assault of corporate sponsored promotions, even one by a gambling casino. PA announcer Bill Bower screams at us about “our second baseman!!!!!”

Upper deck facades are forever electronically lit with advertisements.

If you’re at Turner Field, and I suspect it’s the same at most ballparks, you have to fight for your right to reflect. That’s too bad because part of baseball’s beauty lies in its pauses, its spaces. The anticipation of a critical full-count pitch, the seconds between the crack of the bat and the end of Andruw’s sprint across the green gaps – will he catch it? – the throw home from left field when you can watch ball and runner converge and thrill to the sweet approach of resolution.

These sensations are not unique to baseball among sports. It just has more of these gaps, and they are more essential in baseball. In jazz or writing, the space between notes, the words left out are often as important as what is there. Baseball allows for such spaces.

Yet today’s ball parks are entertainment extravaganzas doing their best to fill every space. If nature abhors a vacuum, 21st Century major league parks abhor contemplation. Should Bobby have left McBride in last inning? Who has time to consider that when there’s a Home Depot paint can race, a Napa cap shuffle, a Delta Air Lines Mini Cooper circling the field?

Let’s see – it’s the 8th inning, two outs, the Braves lead by a run with a full count on the other team’s best hitter. Do we whoop and holler? No need to think. Just look up and see if the Loud Security Systems ad is ordering us to “get loud.”

Sorry if I sound like Furman Bisher. (A curmudgeon’s curmudgeon for those not familiar with the octogenarian columnist.) I understand baseball must adapt. If teams still played all day games, most people could never go. The advent of the relief specialist has added layers of new strategy to the game. I’ve grown to sort of like the wild card and interleague play. I love the influx of Latino and Asian players. Little kids like hitting in cages and playing with people in cartoon character costumes. Older kids like drinking in a place that feels like a Buckhead bar. And team owners love the revenue.

I understand all that. But since fans have embraced players occasionally wearing old-timey uniforms, how about the Braves, or any other team, holding an annual retro promotion? A game with just organ music, no cartoon tool races, no screaming PA men nor corporate-sponsored cheers. A night of just baseball. Who knows, people might like it.

-- CD

Bravos are so close

It’s right there in this blog’s tagline – we are no fans of blind devotion to statistics, especially obscure creations like PECOTA. Why trust something with the same name as a mediocre utility man?

I must confess, though, that I’m a sucker for the occasional numerical nugget that makes some sense.

Here’s one. We all know the home team has a dismal record in one-run games -- 10-14. The Bravos have played more one-run games than any team in baseball, according to the local organ.

The nugget: In one-run tilts against sub-.500 opponents, we’re 4-2; versus winning teams the record is 6-12, a .333 percentage. If the bullpen doesn’t improve, those demoralizing defeats like last night’s, like the extra-inning one at Shea, like the 10-9 defeat in the desert, etc. etc. will continue.

The evidence is mounting that small events – base running, outfielders throwing to second to keep double plays in order and especially critical pitches by relievers – will likely accumulate to determine the ’06 Bravos’ fate. So far, 18 of 35 games against winning teams have been decided by a single run. Obviously the bullpens don’t decide every close game, but they often do. Fix that screaming problem and this team probably reverses half the one-run losses and makes the playoffs. The status quo likely means an October off.

-- CD

JS: Devine might return to bigs in 06

JS said this morning that he hopes Joey Devine returns to Atlanta this season. Hoping and doing are different, but I had not heard even this much about the young righty from anyone of authority.

Schuerholz was doing a radio interview on Atlanta's 680 The Fan, during which he also gave his usual response to questions about the bullpen: We’re hunting answers inside and outside the organization. He thinks Tyler Yates can help. JS also said he’s confident the rotation is solid for the long haul, with Horacio looking better than anyone could’ve hoped, Sosa rounding into form and Hudson and Smoltzie doing what they do.

No huge news, really, though it is interesting that the club thinks Devine might be able to contribute this season. JS said they expect him to start pitching again in a week to 10 days, presumably in extended spring training then in the low minors.

A boot for Ooops

This is nitpicking, I know. In his story in today's local organ, O'Brien writes that in the fourth inning, Renteria was thrown out at third by shortstop Craig Counsell. Counsell didn't play until the 8th inning. Damion Easley threw out Renteria.

It's a small, perhaps meaningless, mistake, but part of a larger pattern of sloppiness. I've come around on O'Brien. I think he does a serviceable job overall and is excellent at trading info with readers on his blog and seems to have great musical taste. Plus, as a former reporter I know it's no fun to have people pointing out your minor mistakes. Yet he often misstates names and innings. Deadlines, blizzards of information -- there are plenty of excuses. He just needs to get these things right.

-- CD

Did you know ...

Babe Ruth and Al Jolson grew up in the same Baltimore orphanage? Overheard that last night on the "Charlie Rose" show -- guest hosted by columnist and author Frank Deford, who had former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent on as a guest. Vincent went on to relay a story I had never heard before about legendary owner (and promoter) Bill Veeck, who in 1943 had acquired the backing to purchase the Philadelphia Phillies. If the sale had gone through, Veeck planned to stock the roster with African-American players.

That would've made Jackie Robinson virtually irrelevant, historically. And if Veeck had consummated the deal, the Phils would've probably won their first World Series well before 1980.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

Wouldn't he be nice?

As you ponder the putrid state of the Atlanta bullpen, consider this: Newly reactivated Dodger Eric Gagne has 160 saves in 166 career opportunities. That encompasses more than three full seasons as the L.A. closer.

Meanwhile, Braves relievers have blown 12 saves so far this year.



I'd rather see Pete Orr come in to face a lefty than Mike Remlinger. We try not to question Bobby around here, but the evidence is in: Remlinger is virtually useless against lefthanded batters.

This year they have 11 hits in 34 AB's against him, following a recent pattern; since 2003, lefties have hit .284 against Re-malinger-er, while righties have managed only a .215 average.

So why does Bobby keep going to that empty well? Beats me, but it's cost the Bravos two wins this week.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are scuffling mightily. Eddie Guardado has struggled this season, but he would provide a definite upgrade, giving the home team two elements it desperately needs -- a dependable late inning southpaw and a proven resume as a closer. And, with his contract expiring after this year, he might very well be available. Plus, the M's have a deep bullpen, one of that team's few strengths.


Must be the hot dogs

Who knew the notorious "fat tub of goo" -- getting his second Office mention in as many nights -- had so much in common with Babe Ruth?

Besides being a portly lefthander, Terry Forster was a helluva hitter, compiling a lifetime .397 BA (with an .886 OPS). That includes a .526 mark (10-for-19) for the '72 White Sox, the last year pitchers hit in the AL. Like Ruth, Forster ended his career with a higher batting average than ERA (3.23).

Of course, the Babe's career numbers were a bit more impressive, finishing with a lifetime .342 average and a 2.28 ERA.


Scenes from the field level seats

I gave up my usual perch in Section 407 for Wednesday night’s game for a chance to sit amongst the fortunate sons and other recipients of corporate graft in Section 102. Here’s a rundown of the evening’s sights and sounds:

Pregame – Not sure who was this night’s VP of Marketing designated to throw out the first pitch, but he drills it in the dirt about 8 feet in front of the plate. Brayan Pena makes the save of the night. We have to abstain from ridiculing the poor sod, because his family is sitting in front of us.

Suchita Vadlamani of Fox 5’s Good Day Atlanta is tonight’s honorary captain. Wow! The seating upgrade has already paid off. How is it that I haven’t seen her before? No more Mike and Mike in the Morning when I’m getting ready for work.

First inning – We’re right across the aisle from the scouts’ section, and I glance over and immediately recognize Dennis Martinez. I believe that El Presidente is now working as a consultant for the Orioles.

Arriving on the other side of us, just in time for her husband’s at bat, is Mia Hamm. She takes a seat in the second row of the visiting team’s box. I don’t recognize anyone else in the box. Frank McCourt definitely isn’t there, and nobody has a hairpiece bad enough to be Ned Coletti’s.

Second inning – Absent from the visiting team box, but now sitting by Dennis Martinez in the scout’s section, is Dodger Assistant GM Kim Ng. Not sure how you pronounce that, but I think you pronounce it like you're making fun of a hairlip. Kim apparently prefers to keep company with people interested in baseball, rather than the celebrities in the team box, which is why she’ll be the first female GM.

Third inning – Here’s where the game was won. Of particular note is Andre Ethier’s dropped ball. He takes a good razzing from Mr. First Pitch, who exhibits Kennedyesque hubris in ridiculing the faults of others.

Fourth inning – By now every teenage girl in the lower level is aware of the presence of the US’s Greatest Women’s Soccer Player. There’s a steady wave of girls running down to the end of the aisle to snap a photo of her watching the game. What they are getting are photos of someone who looks like they couldn’t possibly be less interested in the game.

Fifth inning – Time for some scoreboard watching. Obviously worthy of note is the scoreless duel between between Brandon Webb and Pedro Martinez. What we need is the D-Backs to win, but for the game to go about 18 to tire out their pen. Oscar Villareal in particular wants to see someone other than Webb get the win so he can close in on the league leader for best record. Dennis Martinez knows that a no-decision for Pedro means that he gets to keep the title of All-Time Winningest Latin American Pitcher for another five days.

Sixth inning – Nomar homers, and gets nothing more than a golf clap from his wife. Nomar’s torn groin must have some lingering effects, because she doesn’t look like a satisfied woman.

Seventh inning – Sandy Alomar Jr. enters the game. We ponder how old he is, and I note that he’s so old that his younger brother is retired. I guess that he’s 40, then look it up in the program. He turns 40 in 18 days. I also notice that it’s Kenny Lofton’s 39th birthday. And I didn’t get him anything…

Keeping with Dodger tradition, Mia Hamm leaves in the bottom of the 7th.

The Diamondback-Met game has now gone to extras, still knotted at 0-0. Both starters are gone.

Eighth inning – Villareal enters the game with a 9-2 lead. We speculate whether El Buitre is intending on giving up 7 runs so he can vulture another win. Bobby won’t give him the chance, pulling him after 1 run surrendered.

Ninth inning – Ken Ray takes care of business and gets us out of there without further ado. Nice to see a game from this vantage point every once in a while, but I’m looking forward to slumming it when the D-backs get into town for this weekend’s series.


Gotta start somewhere

Looks like Dayton Moore has his work cut out for him. I wonder if this came with a ringing endorsement from Fred McGriff?


New owner MUST keep Smoltzie

Yeah, it could be a bad sign that Dayton Moore’s bolting. But it will be grim news indeed if ownership does not jump on Smoltzie’s 2007 option. At $8 million, that’s a bargain for an elite starter who’s also the most popular player on the team and its undisputed leader. Oh yeah, and he wants to come back, he told the local organ.

Think of it this way – the Bravos can re-up No. 29 for about a third what Houston’s paying Roger Clemens. In pure baseball terms and as a PR move, it would be spectacularly stupid and shortsighted not to exercise the option. Let Smoltzie go and you might as well double beer prices, ban cell phones at games, kill the seventh-inning stretch, show “Bonds on Bonds” constantly on the big center field screen, frisk every spectator, make fans return foul balls to security.

Baseball is a business, yes. And guys rarely spend entire careers in one place. But Smoltz has sacrificed money to stay here a couple of times. Eight million is, conservatively, about 50 percent less than he could command on the open market. By comparison, Clemens, who has been a shade better than Smoltz but is also three years older, is milking the Astros for a prorated $22 million one-year salary.

If Liberty, or some other owner, wants to immediately and completely alienate the players and fans, there’d be no better way than exiling the greatest Atlanta Brave ever.

A note on last night's game: Fine performance all around by the home team, and I was pleased by a marked increase in organ music. Bravo, Bravos.

-- CD

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Catcall of the night

Directed towards the league's most overpaid mop-up man, portly former Bravo Odalis Perez --

"Hey Odalis, what's Spanish for fat tub of goo?"

Not even a titter, save from CD. Have Braves fans already forgotten Terry Forster? Actually, we could use him right about now.


Dayton Moore is gone

Looks like JS lieutenant Dayton Moore is KC-bound to become GM of the moribund Royals.

As paranoid Braves loyalists, our first thought is that Moore might be bailing before Liberty Media comes in and ruins everything. There could be a sliver of substance to that conspiracy theory. But according to the Kansas City Star, Moore will have final say on all baseball decisions as part of a five-year contract with KC owner David Glass. That has to be attractive.

Moore turned down the Red Sox GM job in the offseason. That is obviously a far more glamorous gig than running the Royals. On the other hand, Moore would’ve been working with the specter of Theo Epstein looming, a GM by committee approach and an insanely intense and critical New England fan base and media.

Things should be much calmer in the Beef Belt. When he rejected the Boston offer, Moore said the usual stuff about family and so forth. We speculated then about whether the Braves might’ve promised him JS’s job when he retires. However, the official Braves site recently wrote that JS might be staying around a few more seasons.

So if his boss isn’t going anywhere soon, what assistant GM of baseball operations wouldn’t want to leave and become the boss? Especially if he has complete authority, albeit over a team with a limited payroll.

It’s probably reaching to conclude that Moore is fleeing Atlanta ahead of John Malone’s evil Liberty Media. But it’s probably also naïve to think that was no factor at all. There is also this: J Graham posited a few weeks ago that as the new president of the Nationals, Stan Kasten could be expected to raid the Braves’ executive suite to staff his new operation. Who better to bring on as GM than Dayton Moore, schooled for the past dozen years in the Braves way of building an organization as solid as any in baseball?

With a new ballpark coming and a bigger market, the Natspos job figured to offer wider horizons than those in KC. But Dayton must’ve figured an offer from DC was no sure thing.

All this is of course pure speculation. All we know is Dayton Moore is booking. That is not a good thing, but it shouldn’t cripple the Bravos organization. A rash of front office departures would be another story.

* If interested, see earlier post about the Royals jack ass owner, David Glass, who let his former GM Allard Baird twist in the wind for three weeks and then blamed the media for it.

-- CD

Bravos must improve against better teams

There’s a baseball axiom that says you have to pole ax the bad teams and hold steady against the good ones. We’re great on the first half of that; we need work on the second.

The Bravos are a sterling 12-3 against teams with losing records. However, against .500 or better clubs, the home team’s just 15-22, a .405 winning percentage. Play .405 ball for a season and you’re 66-96. We’ve only played three teams with losing records – the Marlins, Natspos and Cubs. In the 15-5 May run before the Dodgers came to town, 11 of the wins came against those three sad sacks.

That’s great work. The Braves did what they needed to do, and then some. Now we must beat stronger clubs more often. Like this entire season, much of that probably hinges on the bullpen. You’re rarely going to pound quality teams, so the pen will more often pitch decisive innings in those games.

All too often, those decisions are going the wrong way. According to the Office’s elite research department, the pen is either wholly or largely responsible for 12 of the club’s 25 losses. Reverse half of those 12 and the home team’s in first place. I included in that figure not just blown leads but also close games that the relievers sparked into conflagrations, like last night. That doesn’t count a few wins that the pen made a lot tougher, like Sunday at Wrigley, or games in which a starter stayed in longer than he should’ve and was less effective because Bobby was, rightly, hesitant to bring in a reliever.

Right now, the Braves relief corps stands 14th in the NL in ERA, at 4.90, better than only the Giants and Brewers. Only the Nationals, Marlins and Pirates have worse save conversion rates, and those are three of the Senior Circuit’s four worst teams. (Chicago is the other.) In walks plus hits per inning pitched -- a key stat as you don’t want relievers filling the bases – the home team’s pen is better than only San Fran’s, 1.58 to 1.62. And the Giants’ closer has been hurt most of the season.

It becomes clearer every day that any moves must focus on bolstering the bullpen. We’re more or less OK elsewhere. The starting pitchers rank solidly in the middle of the league and are improving, as Sosa notched his third straight crisp game last night. Offensively, the team strikes out too much and gives away more at-bats than you’d like. Still, only the Dodgers and Arizona have scored more runs than the Bravos, and we’re just one run behind the D’backs for second place.

Last night, the pen’s collapse began with a single pitch, as it often does. With two outs in the 8th inning of a 3-3 game, Remlinger threw a two-strike fastball down the middle that Andre Ethier, a lefty hitter who had been 3-for-15 vs. lefties, slapped into left field for an RBI single. Tyler Yates then threw more gas on the fire. The game was still tied in the 8th because an inning earlier Danys Baez made the pitches to get Chipper, with one out, and then Andruw with the go-ahead run on third.

-- CD

Bullpen watch

So at first glance the Tyler Yates experiment appears a failure. We'll give him some more time, but might Will Startup be the Bravos' next bullpen reinforcement?

The former UGA closer, who started the season in Myrtle Beach, has been promoted to Richmond after torching Double A hitters.

Besides being a decent prospect, Startup is lefthanded, making him even more attractive to the home team. At this point it appears he'll make it to Atlanta before fellow '05 draft pick Joey Devine returns.

So what's Ed Olwine up to these days? Still flinging peanuts at Hawks games? Might want to warm up that left arm, Eddie.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Another modest proposal

Revised trade scenario --

Earlier I floated the idea of a Betemit for Scot Shields swap. Maybe we could get away with this instead: LaRoche and Reitsma for Shields and back-up IF Macier Izturis. The Angels are getting nothing from their first basemen (Darrin Erstad is on the DL, again, and heralded prospect Casey Kotchman is hitting .152 in 79 ABs), and while Adam has been considered somewhat of a disappointment he's on pace for roughly 30 HR and 100 RBI this year.

Said deal would require putting Betemit -- or Chipper -- at first, and calling up prospect Scott Thorman, who's hitting a solid .295 at Richmond with an .852 OPS. Then I'd demote Pete Orr to make room for Izturis, who's excellent defensively at 3B, SS and 2B. Said trade would improve our bullpen, offense and -- assuming Betemit or Chipper can handle first -- defense.

Shields vs. Reitsma: upgrade. Izturis vs. Orr: upgrade. Thorman vs. LaRoche: downgrade for now, but the Canadian first sacker projects as a potential LaRoche, minus the ADD. Or you could bring up Kelly Johnson, who can play several positions (maybe first).

Meanwhile, the Angels get a desperately needed bat without spending a lot of money. As much as they've struggled, their bullpen remains deep, so Shields is conceivably a luxury the Halos could afford to deal. And it's not a stretch to assume that Reitsma might re-emerge as a serviceable set-up option in a different environment.


Tiny bubbles make me warm all over

Can't resist a Don Ho reference, probably the last you'll ever read on the Office. I mention the island icon because the Braves have imported a new retread for the bullpen, native Hawaiian Tyler Kali Yates.

Yates, 28, missed last year following rotator cuff surgery and was released by the Baltimore organization a month into this season.

Feeling that his shoulder was almost all the back back, Yates set up a workout at the Houston Astros training camp in Florida for several team and Braves director of minor league operations J.J. Picollo liked what he saw.

The Braves immediately signed the native of Hawaii in early May and Yates had a 2.16 ERA in seven appearances. In 8-1/3 innings, he allowed six hits, walked three and struck out 10.

"Everyone was raving about him," Braves manager Bobby Cox. "We've been wanting to get a look at him up here."

Yates has a fastball that reached 95-96 mph at Richmond and also a good slider. He occasionally mixes in a changeup.

Lance Cormier was optioned to Richmond to make room for Yates. The way our 'pen is going, Kali might be closing games by August. Ridiculous? No more so than the idea of Ken Ray closing games in May.


(Potentially) bad news

Newsday, not the most reliable source, is reporting that Roger Clemens has decided to return to the Astros. As much as I loathe the Evil Empire, I'd rather the Rocket head north (actually, Boston or Texas would be my preferences).

Why not Houston? Blame the Mets. With New York's other team a definite playoff contender, we have to consider the rest of the National League's elite as rivals. Right now, because of their bullpen instability, you'd have to rate the Bravos behind the Mets in the East.

Besides the Metropolitans, I'd place the 'Cards -- assuming Cris Carpenter's injury is as minor as it appears -- and Dodgers as the teams to beat in their respective divisions. Next best: the Braves and Astros (Arizona is off to a nice start, but their starting pitching beyond Brandon Webb is atrocious). With Clemens, Houston gets the edge. Without him, advantage Atlanta.


Renty so far better than Fukey

With the Dodgers in town, it seems an apt time to compare Braves shortstops past and present. Yeah, they flogged us yesterday, they’re a half game back and we’re 4-and-a-half out. But the shortstop transition is so far in our favor.

Furcal had a couple hits and runs scored yesterday, is hitting .324 in May and has 10 steals. He’s heating up after a .198 April and is at .266 for the season. On the other hand, Fukey leads the National League with 11 errors, and he’s been caught stealing six times. Last season, he stole 46 bases and was caught just 10 times. That’s a 63 percent success rate this year, 82 percent last year. For his career, he’s stolen a base on 77 percent of his attempts.

So he’s off to a decent start offensively and a shaky one afield.

As for the Bravos’ new shortstop, Renteria has been superb with the stick. He’s hitting .333 with 5 homers, 21 RBI and a .415 on base percentage. He easily surpasses Fukey in all those categories. He has half as many steals as Furcal, but you expect that. Renteria has not been excellent defensively but he’s been a little better than Furcal. He has 8 errors -- two in the past two games on tricky throws to second -- compared to Fukey’s 11.

You’d have to give the edge to Renteria based on performance. And one more critical statistic makes it a landslide so far. Salary: the Dodgers are paying Raffy $13 million a year; the Braves are paying Edgar roughly $6 million per while Boston picks up the other $4 mill.

This is not to say Renteria is necessarily better than Furcal. They’re both fine players. I would simply argue that so far, the Braves are probably better with Renteria than they would’ve been with Furcal playing as he has so far this season. When you consider finances, there’s no doubt the Braves are better for having Edgar.

If the Braves had met the Dodgers’ price for Raffy, JS probably would have had to trade Giles and other players for minor leaguers. It’s not worth speculating because there simply was no way the Braves could match the LA offer.

We don’t blame Furcal for taking the Dodgers’ money. They offered far more than the home team. As Bobby has said, he had to take it. Apparently some fans don’t agree. At the game yesterday, there were a few boos, more cheers but mostly indifference greeting Raffy.

Rather than pondering what would’ve been had Furcal stayed, a more intriguing question might be: What if the organization had opted to play Betemit at shortstop every day, kept Marte and spent a little more money on the bullpen? Who knows? Willy B. has had a fine year so far, but in limited time he has not hit as well as Renteria. Defensively, I suspect Renty is better, though Betemit has at least held his own when he’s played short.

There is little doubt that another quality arm – Tom Gordon? – could have made a difference in the pen. Again, all this is hindsight. Going into the season with Betemit, who’s never been a regular, as the starting shortstop would have been a risk. So was going into the season with Reitsma as closer. JS judged that gambling on the pen was the wiser choice.

It would be easy to say that was wrong. And, apologies for sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, but the results of some other strategy are unknowable. These moves should not be judged solely on what’s happened in the first two months of the season, or even on what happens in this entire season. Gordon, for example, signed a 3-year deal with the Phillies averaging around $6 million a year. That’s a hefty price and a lot of years for a reliever who’ll turn 39 in November. In 2008, Philly might wish they had Gordon's money to spend elsewhere.

Being a major league GM is complex, never as simple as we fans portray. Decisions are made within a larger context – every trade or free agent signing sets in motion a chain of events. And each one matters when you effectively operate with a salary cap, as the Braves and most teams do.

-- CD

JS is looking for bullpen help

More kudos to the local organ’s Jeff Schultz. He’s got a column online that includes the first comments I’ve seen from JS acknowledging that the bullpen is a mess and that he is trying to make a deal.


“The situation with the bullpen now, even as early as it is, we’re far enough into the season where the body of evidence is there,” said Schuerholz.

Schuerholz doesn’t divulge a whole lot. For him, this was the equivalent of yelling, “My head’s on fire.” …..

Schuerholz still hopes a closer will emerge from within the franchise, but said: “I would be less than honest if I said we haven’t talked to people [about potential trades], because we have. Calls have been made.”

It might or might not mean anything, but JS also insisted that he has not been told he can't make any deals because of the pending sale of the team. To think that when the home team acquired Reitsma in March 2004, then-Phillies manager Larry Bowa was quoted as saying he hoped it was not Reitsma when he heard the Bravos had gotten a pitcher from the Reds.

On the other topic du jour, it is more than obvious that we here in the Office are huge Bobby fans and don’t brook much criticism of The Skipper. But it seems past time for him to get Betemit on the field. The guy is right now a better hitter than at least three Braves playing far more than he is – LaRoche, Langerhans and Diaz. For the moment, he’s hitting better than Giles, but benching Gilly would just be silly. He’s a proven producer. And you could make an argument that Willy B’s a more complete hitter than Frenchy, but despite his peaks and valleys Francoeur has contributed plenty. Like Giles, benching Frenchy would clearly be foolish.

So get Wilson a first baseman’s mitt. Start hitting him fungoes in left. LaRoche and Langerhans, L.L. Cool Breeze, are hitting a combined .242 and striking out every 3 at-bats. Betemit has as many homers and three fewer RBI than Langerhans in 57 fewer at-bats. With regular playing time, Betemit might level out and be no better than L&L. So what? Give him a shot and see. All he does now is produce and have solid at-bats. We need more of those.

-- CD

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Moore, more more

The official Brave site lends some insight into Dayton Moore's decision-making process as he ponders a move to Kansas City --

But recently there have been some thoughts developing that Braves general manager John Schuerholz may remain in his position even after his contract expires after the 2007 season.

With Moore's children nearing high school, he would like to ensure himself a GM job within the next year. Thus, he may be looking to get one as soon as possible, and, for that reason, the Royals may benefit.


A milestone worth forgetting

Bonds made history Sunday, and no one cares. AJC columnist Jeff Schultz sums it up well:

Barry Bonds hit his 715th home run Sunday. But every overblown ESPN news break-in couldn’t drown out the sad reality of the moment. It was as awkward as it was historical. Some wanted to watch. Most wanted to cover their eyes.

This wasn’t a player punctuating greatness. This was the most vilified sports star we’ve ever seen affirming his place among the five darkest moments in baseball history.

Count them. Like plagues:

1. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox are banned for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

2. Pete Rose, the game’s greatest hitter, agrees to a lifetime ban for betting — on baseball.

3. Baseball cancels the 1994 World Series, not because of natural disaster but rather mutant labor negotiators.

4. Congress holds steroid hearings. Among the Murderers Row giving testimony: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco — who ironically turns out to be baseball’s shining light.

5. Bonds passes the great Ruth and closes in on the great Hank Aaron. But he’s the poster child of the steroid era, and his baggage and personality have led him to become the sport’s greatest pox instead of ambassador.

Sometimes, there's consquences. Apathy may not be adequate punishment for Bonds, but today it speaks volumes.


An anniversary worth forgetting

Thanks to Office reader Jeff for reminding us that today is the one year anniversary of Raul Mondesi's release. And I'd just about forgotten he ever played here.

I was bully on Raul when the Braves signed him, predicting a .260, 20 HR, 80 RBI campaign. As is so often the case, I was dead wrong. Wonder where Francoeur would be right now if Mondesi had met my unrealistic expectations?


Set your sights on "Death Ray"

It's Kenny Ray's job now. Perhaps Bobby will play match-ups here and there, but this much we can assume: Next time there's a save opportunity, Chris Reitsma won't get it. It's a shame -- Chris is a helluva guy, proven by the way his teammates, and Bobby, have stuck behind him. But he's no closer, as evidenced once again Sunday afternoon.

And Ken Ray is? He looks more than capable so far, but it's hard to imagine a 31-year-old journeyman salvaging our 'pen. The guy was probably one step away from playing in the Korean League, and now our playoff hopes rest squarely on his shoulders (barring a trade).

Also, looking for as much feedback as we can get on what to do about Wilson. Put him in left, or first? Keep him where he is? Or trade him for pitching help?

I vote the latter, if we get a premium arm in return. Obviously I'd rather Betemit stay put, but I don't think that's a luxury we can afford anymore.


R.I.P. "Ironhead"

About a decade ago, while logging some freelance work with an Atlanta Falcons publication, I was contracted to do a piece on Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. I was immediately intimidated, considering my subject was a guy nicknamed "Ironhead."

Right away he recognized my trepidation, calling me out in front of a gaggle of reporters camped at his locker. If I felt I could've rescued a shred of dignity running out of the room, arms flailing over my head, I would've done so. But after briefly pondering that unpardonable option, I persisted, and eventually Heyward relented. A (barely) serviceable Q and A was conducted, salvaged by a consistently great quote. Bravado aside, I left our chat thinking Heyward was a cool cat.

The onetime Falcons FB died today, and I thank him for one of my more memorable "celebrity" interviews (better than Paul Newman, Kathy Bates, Duran Duran and even Jerry Clower). The guy was an original; funny as hell (even when putting down yours truly) and doggedly candid. That ranks one high on the Office character scale.

"The one thing he's still got and that hasn't changed a bit," former Falcons QB Bobby Hebert (an even better interview than "Ironhead") said two weeks ago, "is that devilish sense of humor of his. Hopefully, that will keep him going for a while."

Unfortunately, it didn't, but I'm guessing someone in the afterlife is quite entertained right now.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Royally tempted

He turned down the Red Sox last winter, so why is Dayton Moore -- the consensus heir apparent to JS -- considering an offer from the Kansas City Royals to become that team's new general manager?

My neurotic instincts tell me he's getting out because Liberty's getting in (to the baseball business). But there's no proof of that. So why take on baseball's worst franchise when he could have been in charge of one of its best, and most profitable?

There's several different possibilities to explain this. Maybe JS is planning on hanging around another five years. Maybe it's personal -- Moore is a Kansas native. Maybe he relishes the challenge of rebuilding a perennial cellar dweller, just as his boss did here in Atlanta (and, don't forget, JS started his GM career in Kansas City).

My guess is that he passed on the Boston job because he knew Theo Epstein would always be lurking in the background, if not the foreground. Either that or he bristled at the committee-like approach followed the the Red Sox' front office.

If he gets complete control over personnel matters, as he's demanding, then I can't blame Dayton for leaving the Bravos. Let's hope it works out better for him than it did Dean Taylor (formerly the Brewers' GM).


McCarver way off base

During today’s Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver said he had seen a “great stat” showing that during the Braves’ 14-year run of titles the Cubs had outdrawn the home team by 6,000 fans a game.

Judging from the context McCarver seemed to mention this more as a sign of how powerful a draw Wrigley Field itself is, as opposed to the Cubs team, and not as a shot at Atlanta fans.

The problem: It’s not true. Not even close. Over those 15 seasons, the Braves drew 43.12 million fans at home, the Cubs 38.20 million, according to the Braves 2006 media guide and the Cubs official website. The Braves, from 1991 through 2005, drew those 43 million in 1,171 home dates, an average of 36,825 a game. The Cubs site does not specify how many home dates the team had each year, but it obviously has to be very close to the Braves’ number.

If McCarver’s stat included road games, then it’s meaningless, and probably still inaccurate.

-- CD

Friday, May 26, 2006

I can't resist

Reacting to local radio rants by aging hack Beau Bock is like analyzing the politics of a LaRouche candidate – pointless, beyond a waste of time.

But I can’t resist. Bock’s latest “commentary” chastised the local media for, A, not ripping JS for being “snookered” by the Yankees when they overpaid for Kyle Farnsworth, and B, referring to Bobby as a future Hall of Famer, which he most certainly is. Of course Bock added his usual digs at Schuerholz and Cox for not winning more than one Series.

Bock is beyond absurd. The last of his diatribes we dissected was some laughably revisionist tripe about the Falcons offering to share Deion Sanders with the Braves and JS turning up his nose. The truth was quite different.

Apparently Bock’s 33 years bouncing among dozens of Atlanta sports media gigs have not much improved things. But say this for the guy – he can always land a job and he’s no newcomer to the role of buffoon. (He’s also apparently part owner of the station 790, which might explain why he’s on the air.) Bock was lambasting Bobby and JS as early as 1993. Here’s a quote in the local organ from November ’93:

"I've followed Jerry since his days as an assistant coach, and I believe in his system of accountability and aggressive, hard-nosed football," Bock said. "Down at the Braves, I see a superstar-laden team but no appreciation for athletic ability. John Schuerholz has a hidden agenda, and we don't look for alternative ways to score runs."

Jerry refers to Beau’s sacred cow, Jerry Glanville. Let’s examine Beau’s bull about his sacred cow and his favorite targets. Glanville in 1993 was in the midst of his fourth and last season as Falcons coach. That season began with five straight losses and ended with four defeats in the last five games. Glanville had one winning season in four with the Falcons. A purported defensive mastermind, Glanville’s Falcon defenses were a sieve: most points allowed in the NFL in 1992 and 93, and 21st and 20th in points allowed his first two seasons. This system of accountability and aggressive, hard-nosed football produced a 28-38 record in Atlanta.

Glanville fashioned losing streaks of seven and five games with the Birds to bookend his tenure, the first streak in ’90, the second in ’93. His 1986 Houston team lost eight in a row, half a season.

Glanville also left Houston in fine fashion. His 1989 team coughed up a division title by losing its last two regular season games by a combined score of 85-27, including a 61-7 pasting by the 8-8 Bengals. Glanville’s squad then limped into the playoffs as a wild card and lost its first game. Glanville’s overall coaching record is 60-69.

To review:

Glanville – 0 Super Bowl titles, 0 conference titles, 0 division titles, 0 coach of the year awards, a .465 career winning percentage, one 56-17 humiliation with a “California trophy” on the Candlestick Park sidelines.

Bobby – 1 World Series title, 14 straight division titles, 5 NL pennants, 7 Sporting News NL Manager of the Year awards, a .566 career winning percentage that is third best in baseball history.

Bock – 168 different radio and TV jobs, one soured business relationship that spawned a lawsuit against Life College founder “Dr.” Sid Williams, a supposed football career at the University of Miami but no mention on a list of the school’s lettermen, an endless and continuing string of asinine radio yap. And he does commercials for a Hummer dealership.

-- CD

What almost was

In 1989, when he was still the Braves' GM (and Russ Nixon was in the dugout), Bobby backed out of a blockbuster deal that might've revitalized the franchise a year before the '91 miracle.

From a 1990 column by Mark Bradley, courtesy of the AJC archives:
What if the Braves had pulled the trigger on Murphy-to-the-Mets? Doesn't the idea of having a .400 hitter (Lenny Dykstra) and a 30-homer man (Howard Johnson) and a card-carrying closer (Rick Aguilera) seem even sweeter in retrospect than it did at the time?

Not that the Mets trio would've turned the 1990 squad into a pennant contender, but Aguilera would've been a big improvement over Joe Boever. Same with HoJo and Jim Presley. And Dykstra would've sent Lonnie Smith to the bench a year earlier.

But what about the next year? We would likely had never seen TP and Otis in Braves uniforms, with Johnson entrenched at third and Dykstra in center. And Alejandro Pena would probably have not been needed, either.

A statistical comparison from '91:

Johnson -- 38 HR, 117 RBI, .259 BA (and 30 steals)
Pendleton -- 21 HR, 105 RBI, .311 BA (and much better defense)

*TP's clubhouse leadership gives him the edge here

Dykstra -- Played in only 63 games that year, with a .297 BA, .391 OBP and 24 steals
Otis -- .297 BA, .371 OBP, 72 SB

*Dykstra had a better career, but Otis had the better season. Which drug is worse: coke or 'roids?

Berenguer/Pena -- The Braves two main closers in '91 performed quite capably; Pena had 11 saves and a 1.40 ERA while Senor Smoke recorded 17 saves and a 2.24 ERA
Aguilera -- Ironically ended up with the Twins in '91, saving 42 with a 2.35 ERA

*Long-term, Aggy would've solved a lot of bullpen problems. He remained a solid closer through much of the nineties ...

Hard to make a final verdict here, but TP was a pivotal element of those early 90s teams (along with the starting pitching). Without him, I don't think the Braves would've won in '91. Beyond that, who knows? Overall, though, I'm glad Bobby didn't make that deal (not that Jeff Parrett, Jim Vatcher and Victor Rosario contributed much to the Bravos).

And did you know Tommy Greene was sent to the Phillies along with Murphy? Sometimes even bad trades work out for the best.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Baseball Blunders

Rob Neyer has a new book out called Big Book of Baseball Blunders in which he chronicles some of the most egregious front office blunders in baseball history. For instance, he relays the story of how Babe Ruth became a Boston Brave. I always just assumed that it was a sentimental move to let The Babe finish his career in Beantown without having to face the Yankees. Nothing could be further from the truth, which might be good fodder for another entry. jumps on the bandwagon to let the fans vote on what they think is the greatest blunder in baseball history, as well as top blunders by each team. In typical Esspen fashion, pretty much all the choices are post-1979, which is when sports began in its opinion. Every franchise has had its blunders, particularly since hindsight plays a large role in determining whether a player transaction works out or not. Here are my Top Ten Braves Blunders, which I’ll limit to time in Atlanta:

10. Trades for Denny McLain and Dick Allen. The Braves had an obsession in the early 70s to trade for enigmas and ending up with enemas. The Braves gave up Orlando Cepada (who was at the end of his career as well) in 1972 for McClain, who never reported. Likewise, Jim Essian was traded to the White Sox for Allen after the ’74 season. Allen never reported. The Braves eventually traded the rights to Allen to the Phillies for Jim Essian, who they had gotten from the Sox in the meantime.

9. Signing Nick Esasky to a three year, $5.6 million contract. Not so much a blunder as just bad luck. Esasky gets in all of six at-bats and is never able to play again because of vertigo.

8. Trading Dave Justice and Marquis Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree. The trade on paper wasn’t a disaster; after all, the Braves have won nine straight division titles since this “blunder.” And the trade arguably freed up the cash to sign Maddux, Glavine, and Smotlz to another round of contracts. What the trade did do, though, was give up a team leader in Justice and a character guy in Grissom for a clubhouse cancer in Lofton. That the team weathered it was yet another testament to Bobby Cox.

7. The signing of Jim Bouton. Virtually blackballed because of "Ball Four" and having not pitched in the big leagues since 1970, Jim Bouton managed to convince Ted Turner to sign him to a minor league contract, against the advice of farm director Henry Aaron. Bouton would pitch for AA Savannah for the better part of three months, and would get a September call-up with the going-nowhere 1978 Braves. He made five starts with the parent club, going 1-3. Aaron’s criticism was valid – Bouton took valuable starts away from prospects in both Savannah and Atlanta.

6. Trading Andre Thornton for Joe Pepitone. The colorful Pepitone was traded to the Braves in 1973 and managed to wear out his welcome after only 11 at-bats. He was released after one month. Thornton went on to have a steady 14-year career in which he amassed 253 homers with the Cubs and Indians.

5. Signing Al Hrabosky. Sure, Bruce Sutter never measured up to his contract in a Braves uniform, but the Hrabosky signing in 1980 was a bigger bust. The tone was set early. The Braves were shellacked in the first two games of the season by the Reds 9-0 and 6-0, but have the lead in Game Three. Hrabosky, in to nail down the game, gives up a two-run homer to Dave Concepcion to lose the game. Hrabosky didn’t get the save that day, but he would manage to get seven saves over the next three seasons (after having 90 in the previous seven).

4. Releasing Luis Tiant. In 1971 a 30-year-old Tiant was thought to be washed up when he was released by Minnesota. The Braves gave him a 30-day tryout at Richmond to see if he could regain the All-Star form he had achieved with Cleveland in the 60s. After 30 days, the Braves let him go. He signed with the Red Sox’s AAA affiliate and was recalled to the Show a few weeks later. He went on to eat another 2,100 innings over the next 10 seasons.

3. The Eddie Haas experiment. Haas was the choice of Turner’s baseball people to replace Cox after Cox was fired after the 1981 season, but Turner went with Joe Torre instead. Though Torre finished first, second, and second in his three years in Atlanta, he and Bob Gibson were always clashing with the front office (Al Thornwell, John Mullen) and minor league pitching instructor Johnny Sain. When Tommie Aaron, a coach on Torre’s staff, entered the final weeks of his battle with leukemia in 1984, Eddie Haas was plucked from Richmond by the front office to replace Aaron, which created even more friction. Torre would eventually be fired after the 1984, and was replaced by Haas, whose tenure as manager would last all of 121 games. The Braves would finish either 5th or 6th in the NL West each of the next six seasons.

2. Trading Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby, and Rick Behenna for Len Barker. In the throes of a pennant race for the second straight year in 1983, the Braves panicked. Just before the roster freeze, they traded three players to be named later to Cleveland for Len Barker. The trade itself was bad – Barker was never effective for the Braves, Butler and Jacoby had decent careers (three All-Star appearances between the two). The blunder was in how the trade was handled. Word leaked out that crowd-favorite Butler was one of the PTBNLs during the September pennant race. The Braves’ brass later admitted that he was one of the PTBNLs, though the commissioner’s office let him finish the year with the Braves. The damage was done. The trade cast a pall over the team, which finished second to the Dodgers. Barker was never welcome in Atlanta, and the home team made matters worse by then signing him to a five-year deal. He was released 2/5 of the way through the contract as part of the April Fools Day Massacre in 1986.

1. Botching the signing of Tom Seaver. In 1966, the Braves signed USC standout Tom Seaver to a $40,000 signing bonus, only to have Commissioner Spike Eckert void the contract because USC’s baseball season had begun when the contract was signed. Every other team was offered the opportunity to match the Braves’ offer and get Tom Terrific. Three teams were interested, and the Mets were awarded the rights to Seaver by lottery. 311 wins, 3,600 strikeouts, and three Cy Young Awards later, Seaver was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


Great post by JG, but have to disagree on one of his selections (although I can't dimiss the merits of his point). Signing Jim Bouton may have been a stupid baseball decision, but it was a cool moment in diamond history nonetheless -- two mavericks, Ted being the other, flipping the middle finger at the establishment for no other reason than they could. Watching Bouton get his first and only win that season against the Giants in Candlestick stands out as one of my earliest Braves memories. I didn't know much about Bouton's past -- I had yet to discover "Ball Four" -- but I was intrigued by the brushstrokes. Plus, I thought it was neat when his hat fell off during his delivery (and I'm a sucker for knucklers).


A modest proposal

Sam Bass got me thinking as well, and he's directed my sights toward Scot Shields (no relation to ex-Brave hurler Steve Shields) of the struggling O.C. Angels. He's not a closer, but he's as durable a reliever as there is in baseball, accumulating 198 innings out of the pen from 2004-05. Yet he's never spent time on the DL, and this season he's off to a stellar start, with a 1.03 ERA through 26 innings pitched.

Shields' career numbers are stout -- 432.2 IP, 356 HA, 148 BB, 376 K's and a 2.69 ERA. One downer, however: Shields has blown nine out of 22 lifetime save opportunities.

But he's pitched well in the postseason and has the stuff to close. Considering he's never held the job outright, Shields' resume as a ninth inning option is incomplete.

Moreover, there's a clear match with the Bravos. The Halos are desperate for offense, and they're particularly lacking at the hot corner. Enter Wilson Betemit. I know, none of us want to trade him (and I'm pretty sure CD would be against this proposal), but I'm not sure we have a choice. It's good to have Chipper insurance, but otherwise where is he going to play? (Left field and 1B are options down the road, but are we certain Willie B can handle either position?)

I am certain that the Braves need bullpen help, and, if available, Shields just might be the answer.

How about:

Shields and Macier Izturis (a switch-hitting slick fielder, much like his brother Cesar) for Betemit and Villarreal?

Naturally I'd rather do said deal with Escobar, Pena, Lerew or even Salty, but I don't think that would be enough.


Cubs pen might be good place to shop

Sam Bass over at the Brave-O-Matic blog raises interesting possibilities regarding new closers. He suggests that the home team should explore raiding the Cubs pen, which is loaded with relatively expensive set-up men who are little use to a floundering team.

Specifically, Bass mentions Scott Williamson, Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry as possible targets for JS. Intriguing. All three guys are pitching well, and if the Cubs don’t pull a spectacular about-face soon it would hardly be surprising for them to dangle some contracts on the market.

Howry is signed for another couple of years after this one at $3 mill per, while Eyre is paid similarly and under contract for next season with a player option for 2008. Williamson, on the other hand, is signed only through the rest of this season at $2 million. So if the Braves go closer shopping at Wrigley, Williamson might seem the likely candidate. He's hardly a glamorous name. He has a history of injuries, yes, but has closed and, as long as we don’t have to give up too much, would be a reasonable gamble.

Chances are Jim Hendry & Co. wouldn’t look to dump any of these guys for another three or four weeks to see if they can reanimate (reference to great B horror movie) when Prior, Wood and Lee return. Remember, Houston was 15-30 last year.

However, if the Little Bears keep sliding – and they just got swept by the Marlins – you’d have to figure some or all of those relievers will be made available. They probably won’t come cheap. Bullpen arms are always in demand. So JS would have to ponder how much of the future to mortgage. There might be a nice match: the Cubs need help in the middle infield, and we have multiple prospects there in Pena, Prado, Andrus et al. I’d try to keep Betemit in a deal like this.

Can Reitsma right himself and be a reliable closer? I confess I’m clinging to a shred of hope, but it seems as likely as Bob Rathbun becoming Vin Scully. Failing a Reitsma revival, a deal is mandatory if we hope to contend even for the wild card.

Thinking about the Cubs, that's a team that, unlike the Braves, chose to invest heavily in its bullpen. It clearly is not working so far. There is no perfect formula.

-- CD

Offense frustrating but hardly awful

Yeah, it’s maddeningly inconsistent. Yet for all the bitching and moaning – including some from this blog -- and even after an anemic series in Arizona and first two games in San Diego, the Braves’ offense is fourth in the National League in runs scored.

They trail only the Dodgers, Reds and Diamondbacks, in order. The Bravos are averaging 5.2 runs a game, which should generally be enough to win. The club is fifth in team batting average, at .267. Where the Braves lag offensively, no surprise, is in strikeouts and walks. The club is 10th in walks, with 160, and has struck out more than all NL teams but the Marlins and Brewers.

LA and Cincy are 1-2 in walks and runs, which is probably not a coincidence. The home team averages 7.3 strikeouts a game, and just 3.4 walks, or 2.1 Ks for every BB. The best offensive K-to-BB ratios in the league are the Cardinals and Dodgers, who strike out about 1.3 times for each walk they draw. The Redbirds, who own the league’s best record, rank just behind the Braves in runs – 246 to 244.

Of course you don’t have to score scads of runs to win. The 1995 Series champions hit just .250 and scored 4.5 runs a game. The difference, of course, is pitching -- a 3.44 team ERA compared to 4.32 right now. So unlike their predecessors, the 2006 Braves must hit to win.

So far, OK. I think they’ll improve, mainly because the leadoff hitter is hitting 51 points below his career average. You have to think Giles will heat up. To wind up at .280, he’ll need to hit about .300 the rest of the way. That’s certainly feasible.

And Chipper, while he’s at .315, is on a pace to hit only 14 home runs and drive in 86, vs. career norms of 30 and 101. He might not match those power numbers, but he’s a good bet to come close, which would mean much clutch power hitting to come.

-- CD

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Stat of the night

LaRoche has received considerable grief this season, much of it warranted, but consider that he's on pace for around 95 RBI and 45 doubles. I wouldn't bet Adam meets those projections, but if he gets close we'll all be satisfied.


Flashbacks are bad

And sometimes, so are comparisons. I hate to be right on this, and no doubt the jury remains sequestered, but lately whenever I see Marcus Giles at bat I'm reminded of Bret Boone, circa 1999.

The swing is just way too long, more from his heels than his center. This from a guy we assumed would be a perennial 20 HR, 45 doubles producer. So far Marcus has only 10 doubles and one homer. I don't think that has anything to do with him adjusting to the lead-off role but rather his approach at the plate, more Frenchy than Fukey.

I still think Gilly will rebound, but I'm increasingly concerned that my admittedly underinformed observation may be proven correct.


19 for 30

Matt Diaz is on an incredible run, the likes of which we've rarely, if ever, seen from a Braves hitter. Again, that's 19 hits in his last 30 AB's. I don't know how he does it, but I'm convinced, and the Office staff offers its apologies for our early season doubts (long live the agricultural shot!) In addition, Diaz is competent in left and is a minor threat on the bases.

He's earned the right to play every day (I'd wager CD, who has Diaz on his fantasy team, would concur). Not that I'm giving up on Langerhans, but you can't keep a guy hovering around .400 on the bench forever.

One warning sign: Matty D still hasn't walked this year.


His rampage has vaulted Diaz into the class of Henry Aaron, Chipper Jones and Ralph Garr as career .300 hitters. Diaz's career batting average before this season was a pedestrian .252. Now it's .301. That can happen when you have 183 major league at-bats. Diaz is obviously not remotely in the class of even Garr, who won the 1974 batting title by hitting .353. He also had two 200-hit seasons as a Brave, including a club-record 219 in 1971. Nevertheless, Matty D. is earning respect in the Office. Keep swinging, Matty.

-- CD

I'm not a violent man, but ...

Nothing makes me want to sling a monitor across a room like reading online comments from imbeciles blasting Bobby Cox. I become especially enraged when they write things like one did on the other day about how “astute baseball fans” realize Bobby’s a bad manager because of the Braves postseason losses.

Funny how astute baseball fans like Peter Gammons and countless other people inside the game unanimously rank Bobby among the best managers of all time. Here’s another salute to Bobby in an interesting piece over at exploring how few managers, Bobby being among them, make a substantial difference for their team.

In his 25th year as a big league skipper, Cox remains sharp. The Braves finished in last place in 1990, his first season in Atlanta; they've won the division title each year since, a staggering run of success. Cox is an outstanding talent evaluator: He helped build the Braves as a general manager before he took over in the dugout, and has won despite Atlanta's payroll decreasing noticeably in recent years.

One of the reasons both veterans and youngsters enjoying playing for him, says historian Bruce Markusen, is because "his strength as a manager is his ability to assign sensible roles that his players are capable of handling." It is rare to hear any of Cox's players say a bad word about him. "If you can't play for him," Fred McGriff once said, "you can't play for anyone."

-- CD

Hats off to Jake Peavy

Add Padres pitcher Jake Peavy to the Office’s list of favorite non-Braves.

As a native of Lower Alabama, I’m naturally partial to guys from that area. But the native Mobilian Peavy took a further step in my book of good guys with a gesture during a Padres’ salute to the Negro Leagues this month.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

For his first pitch to Cubs leadoff hitter Juan Pierre, Peavy went to a double-pump windup reminiscent of an era that was long gone by the time Peavy was born in 1981.

It was Peavy's own way of saluting the Negro Leagues, which the Padres were officially doing.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do," Peavy said yesterday. “We were wearing old-style uniforms. And Satchel Paige is a Mobile (Ala.) guy like me. I just wanted to say, 'I know what you guys did and who you are.' "

Later in the story, Peavy said, “Mobile has five Hall of Famers and five pioneers ... Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Satchel, Willie McCovey and Billy Williams. I just wanted to show some respect. I practiced the double-pump in the bullpen to be sure I could throw it for a strike.”

Peavy wears No. 44, and I’m curious whether that is an homage to Aaron and/or McCovey, who both wore that number. I’ve been unable to find anything online about that.

It’s always refreshing to discover that a major leaguer is actually a fan of the game and its rich history. It’s too rare. Way to go, Jake. Maybe you’ll end up in Atlanta some day.

-- CD

I echo CD's cap tip to Peavy, who symbolizes a small yet encouraging trend among young players (like Jimmy Rollins and Dontrelle). I'd include many of the "Baby Braves" -- namely Brian McCann -- on the list of burgeoning stars who actually appreciate and enjoy the game they play. I'm sure there's plenty who don't, but I think we've made some progress from the days when Jay Bell -- quoted in a Sports Illutrated article about the topic more than a decade ago -- asked, "Who's Mickey Mantle?"


Desperate for affirmation

Cheering for a team so thin on talent, Braves fans are forced to focus on the positives, regardless of the outcome.

So here it is: Jorge approached dominance once again, perhaps postponing the debut of Chuck James, starter. Meanwhile, Paronto and Remlinger were stalwart in relief, betrayed by a Chipper miscue.

As losses go, this one wasn't that bad. Still, the Bravos, as presently constructed, seem ill-prepared for contention.