Saturday, July 28, 2012

Olympic Blackout

Greetings all! In an unfortunate turn of events, I am sequestered in Texas with very sparse TV access just as the Olympics kick off. As a result, content will be highly limited in this space until I get back on Saturday the 4th. The timing is obviously terrible, but bear with me a bit.

In the meantime, happy sporting!

Monday, July 23, 2012

7/23: Penn State, British Open, etc.

Greetings! Back with some quick hitters this morning....

  • The NCAA dropped the hammer on Penn State. $60 million fine to an endowment to prevent child abuse, vacating every win from 1998-2011, massive scholarship reduction, and a 4-year postseason ban. They deserve it all, but the only part that makes me uneasy (always does) is punishing the current kids for past issues. That said, the fact that the transfer ban has been waved almost covers that. Crazy to read that whole list, but not shocked either.
  • Ernie Els won the British Open yesterday... but the story was Adam Scott's collapse. Scott led Els by 4 shots with 4 holes to play before bogeying each of the final 4 holes to lose by a shot. Ernie played really well, and deserved to win, but the focus is understandably on the giant meltdown by Scott. I feel badly for him. The winner finished at -7 and Tiger started the day at -6, but he only could manage a 73, and it wasn't enough to stay in contention. The drought continues.
  • USA Basketball struggled a bit, but still defeated Argentina 86-80 yesterday. Kevin Durant had 27 points to lead the way, but this, once again, shows that this team is certainly not unbeatable. Spain and Argentina present the biggest issues, and Spain is the next and final exhibition opponent. Stay tuned. 
  • The Braves dropped a 9-2 decision to Washington yesterday. After winning the first 2 games of the 4-game series including a ridiculous comeback on Friday, the Braves could only manage a split up in DC due to some pitching woes over the weekend. Jurrjens looked really, really bad on Sunday, allowing 6 ER in 2.1 innings, and he's easily the worst pitcher on the staff right now despite his semi-reasonable numbers since the injury.  He's just not effective. Ben Sheets is clearly the #3 pitcher on the staff right now, so take that for what its worth.
What to watch for on Monday...
  • MLB - Braves @ Marlins - Minor vs. Johnson - SportSouth 7:00 - It would be really nice to get a quality outing from Minor here, and the Marlins offense may be the recipe.
  • MLB - Red Sox @ Rangers - Doubront vs. Feldman - ESPN 8:00 - I still believe in Boston. For whatever reason.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Answering the "Dream Team" Question

Greetings! I've been slacking in this space, and I apologize. Let's get it going with a full breakdown of the one and only Dream Team from 1992 against the 2012 Olympic squad... answering the question once and for all about who had the better squad.

It is critical to remember that "career arc" doesn't particularly matter in this instance, and that we have to actually examine the player in that current year.

Let's break it down by position group...

Point Guard
1992 - Magic Johnson, John Stockton
2012 - Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook

This is the prime example of an instance where you can't just look at face value of player recognition. Magic Johnson hadn't played in an NBA game in over a year when the Olympics took place. Yes, he averaged 19 points and 12 assists a game in 1990-91 (with a 25.1 PER), but he had already been diagnosed with HIV and was pretty rusty. Stockton was in the prime of his career, coming off of a season in 1991-92 where he averaged 16 points, nearly 14 assists (which is insane), and 3 steals a game with a 22.8 PER. That said, he was pretty banged up and played in only 2 Olympic games, so that needs to be taken into account.

On the 2012 side, the athleticism advantage is pretty scary. I wouldn't characterize Chris Paul as wildly athletic but the other 2 guys are pretty top-notch in their respective areas. Paul posted a PER last season of over 27, and is the best point guard on the planet at the moment in my opinion. I think he's the best player of the 5 when you factor in era, and the fact that Magic wasn't MAGIC (in capital letters). Williams and Westbrook both have comparable efficiency numbers to Stockton, and I think this is actually an advantage area for the 2012 team. Edge: 2012

Shooting Guard
1992 - Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler
2012 - Kobe Bryant, James Harden

Jordan was already the best player on Earth by 1992. He had just finished the Bulls' 2nd title run, averaged 30 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists a game, won the MVP, and made the all-defensive team. We know about MJ. Drexler, on the other hand, gets forgotten in the midst of all of the other superstars. That said, he was coming off a 91-92 season where he finished 6th in the league in PER and averaged 25/7/7 on the season. 25 points, 7 boards, 7 assists! That's a top-10 player in the league today without question (and probably higher) and he's the backup to the best player on Earth... see where I'm going here?

For the 2012 squad, Kobe is still a big-time player but he's seen a clear decline from his peak. At 33, he posted his lowest PER since 2000 (finishing outside the league's top 10), and while he still averaged 28 points a game, he needed an inefficient 23 shots per game to do so. Kobe is still a top-10 player in 2012, but the difference between prime MJ and slightly-aged Kobe is pretty severe. Harden is a nice player who found his way onto the team because Dwyane Wade is injured, Eric Gordon can't stay on the court, and there's a serious 2-guard shortage right now. I think Harden is the worst non-college player on either team, and with Drexler being where he was in 1992, the difference is enormous. Big Edge: 1992

Small Forward
1992 - Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Chris Mullin
2012 - Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Iguodala

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Scottie Pippen homer. He's probably the best perimeter defender I've ever seen, and he averaged 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists a game as the #2 option. He's wildly underrated historically, and was at the peak of his powers in 1992. Larry Bird, however, was not. We all know Larry Legend is a top-10 player of all-time, but giving that disclaimer, he wasn't himself by 1992. In his final season, the Legend played only 45 games because of severe back trouble, averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists game. He was still a very, very good player, but by the time the Olympics arrived, he was basically retired, and only played 2 games in the tournament. If you ever want to stump someone on guys from the dream team, Mullin is usually the guy that people forget. That is crazy when you consider that he averaged 26 points a game in 1992. Twenty-six! He was 3rd in the league in scoring that season, and the number of guys who averaged that many in 2012 is exactly four. Mullin was an elite scorer and shooter, and while he was limited defensively, was certainly a better player than Andre Iguodala is currently.

Kevin Durant is big-time. The Pippen/Durant debate is a wildly interesting one because of how different they are as players. Durant has the edge in PER (26 to 22) and PPG (28 to 21), while Pippen was the superior all-court player, a wildly better defender, and had just won the title with MJ. I'm not going to declare a winner, although most people would probably lean to Durant, because I am so high on Scottie. Carmelo Anthony has taken a step back in recent years. Melo still averaged 23 and 6 this season, but his efficiency has dropped off the table, and there are serious concerns about his "superstar" status. There is no doubt that when Larry Bird could function enough to play, he was likely still a more valuable player than Carmelo, but with his injury, I'll call it a wash because Carmelo has proven to be a very effective player in International play, to the point where he's even starting over Durant. Iguodala is on the team purely as a defensive stopper. That said, he was the worst PER of all 22 NBA players on the two teams combined, and with Pippen as the defensive stopper for 1992, best of luck. Slight Edge: 1992

Power Forward
1992 - Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Christian Laettner
2012 - Lebron James, Kevin Love

In the midst of the clown that he's become at times, we've forgotten that Charles Barkley was one of the 5 best players on Earth in 1992. He led the Dream Team in scoring and rebounding (16 and 7 per game), was coming off a season where he averaged 23 and 11 with a 25 PER, and was an absolute force. Karl Malone was Karl Malone. You could put 28 and 11 on the board every night for him for about a decade, and his 1992 PER of 25 was good for 3rd in the league. It's a fantastic combination. Laettner was one of the best college players ever, but didn't see the court for the US team, and we'll pretty much leave him out.

Lebron James is the only guy on either squad in the stratosphere of 1992 Michael Jordan... and he's still not there. LBJ averaged 27/8/6 this season with a 1st-team all-defensive team to boot. His PER of 30.7 is actually better than the number that MJ put up in 1991-92 and he's the second best player of the 22 guys we're discussing. In the vitriol over Lebron, including the Decision and the pre-season party 2 years ago, I think the general public forgets how absolutely ridiculous he is as a player, and that he's one of the best we've ever seen at their apex. Kevin Love is underrated... still. This guy just finished a full season with 26 points a game, 13.3 rebounds, and he shot 37% from three (on 282 attempts!). He's a limited defensive player so he's a cut below the other guys, but let's not think that Kevin Love doesn't belong here. With the "stretch" of Lebron at the 4-spot, I think his edge balances it out. Advantage: Push with a lean to 2012

1992 - David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
2012 - Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis

David Robinson had the 2nd-highest PER of anyone in 1992 behind Michael Jordan. The guy was an absolute monster at this stage of his career, averaging 23 and 12 with nearly five blocks a game on 55% shooting. He was Dwight Howard... but better. Ewing was no slouch either, as he averaged 24 and 11 with 3 blocks a game for the Knicks in the 1991-92 season and easily would be the best or 2nd-best center alive if he walked in the door right now (depending how you feel about Dwight Howard). Both were legitimate NBA superstars at the time of the team's selection, and were absolute no-brainers.

This is where the 2012 argument really dies. Dwight Howard isn't on the team. Let me repeat. Dwight Howard isn't here! Even with Howard, it's a stretch, but when you factor in that the best center alive right now isn't playing AND that Andrew Bynum (who I hate, but still) isn't playing either, it can't be argued. Oh, did I mention that there's only one NBA center on the entire roster and he's not even a top-3 guy in the league? Tim Duncan isn't here, Al Horford is from the Dominican Republic, Pau Gasol is from Spain, Greg Monroe and Demarcus Cousins weren't invited, and the list goes on. Tyson Chandler is a very, very good basketball player. He's an elite rim-protector who averaged a double-double this season and was the defensive player of the year. I'm not killing him. That said, the difference between Chandler and Anthony Davis and David Robinson/Patrick Ewing is the Grand Canyon. Giant Advantage: 1992
If you look at it position-by-position, 1992 would have a 3-1-1 lead, with possibly 3-2 if you give the power forward edge to the current squad. That doesn't even factor the gaping hole at center, or the fact that MJ vs. Kobe is a pretty big gap at the correct era. It's really not particularly close.

I will say this. A lot of people are forgetting that the 2012 version is completely short-handed. In 1992, all of the best players in the country played on the team, depending on how you feel about Isiah Thomas. ALL OF THEM! This year, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Andrew Bynum, and Lamarcus Aldridge are all unavailable due to injury. Does this widen the gap? Absolutely!

For instance, if the US team had their absolute apex roster, it would likely look something like this:

PG - Paul/Rose/Williams
SG - Bryant/Wade
SF - Durant/Carmelo
PF - LBJ/Love/Aldridge
C - Howard/Bynum

Looks pretty scary right? Even if you just took one of Aldridge and Bynum (I'd take LA) and put Davis back on the team, that's a much, much better team with a more legitimate argument. With Howard being roughly equivalent to Robinson/Ewing, it would at least off-set the gaping advantage there, and with either Bynum, Aldridge, or even Tyson Chandler as the back-up, it wouldn't be embarrassing up front. In addition, the Dwyane Wade upgrade on the wing would be a noticeable one from James Harden, and with a guy like Drexler on the opposing roster, that can't be oversold.

However, as Rick Pitino infamously told us, those guys aren't walking through that door, and because of that, I've come to a decision.

Game, Set, Match to 1992 and the only Dream Team.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Forgive Me...

Forgive the lack of content... it's a crazy week with my brother's wedding coupled with busy work life...

In the meantime? Check out the 2,000 words I wrote examining the Hawks roster as currently constructed by going here:


Sunday, July 8, 2012

7/8: Sunday Ramblings...

Greetings everyone! Several things to cover so let's go...

  • The US Basketball Roster is out and finalized. There were nine "locks" going in once all of the injury guys were removed, and it's a nice group. Kobe, CP3, Westbrook, Deron Williams, Lebron, Durant, Carmelo, Kevin Love, and Tyson Chandler were no-brainers when considering the options, but the final three spots were up for grabs. In the end, the US went with James Harden, Andre Iguodala, and Blake Griffin. I'm totally okay with Harden and Iguodala, as Harden provides another 2-guard option who can shoot, and Iguodala gives them a defensive stopper off the bench. I don't love the Griffin selection at all because his game doesn't really fit international play, but lack of options also came into play, and with the other option being the totally unproven Anthony Davis, I can see the logic. Get me to London...
  • Since we last met in this space (lol), Ray Allen signed with Miami. I'm a little surprised that Ray didn't go to the Clippers or Memphis for the full mid-level, but anyone shocked by him leaving Boston for Miami isn't paying attention. Things had soured for Ray in Boston between his relationship with Rondo and the emergence of Avery Bradley. The fit in Miami is a great one because he's the perfect floor stretcher, and the rich get richer.
  • Marcus Camby has a list of suitors headlined by the Knicks and Heat. Speaking of perfect fits, he'd be an incredible steal as a rim protector for Miami, but "sources" were saying this morning that New York is more likely. I can think of 15 different teams that would fit better than New York (who has Tyson Chandler), but he's played there before and New York is New York.
  • The Hawks have made 2 minor issues in the last few days. First, they issued a qualifying offer to Ivan Johnson. This basically ensures that the Hawks will a) sign Johnson to a 1-year deal at minor money, or b) have the right to match any free agent deal he signs elsewhere. Johnson was a valuable bench piece last year, and I'm sure they'd like to retain him, but with that said, any multi-year deal at decent money would be a curious decision with the cap space they've worked on creating. Secondly, Jordan Farmar will reportedly be bought out for $1.5 million. He would've cost the Hawks $4+ million this season, and the notoriously cheap Spirit group jumped at the chance to save a few bucks. They'll certainly need to attract another guard or two in free agency (minimum guys most likely) to fill the roster with only Harris and Teague capable of handling the ball on the current roster.
  • The Braves have pushed to a 2-0 series lead in the weekend series over Philly with 5-0 and 6-3 victories. Starting pitching has been the key with Tim Hudson throwing 7 shut-out innings on Friday and Tommy Hanson throwing 7 efficient innings on Saturday. It's nice to see Brian McCann suddenly raking as he's homered in both games including a grand slam on Friday. Nothing's more fun than beating Philadelphia. 
What to watch for on Sunday..
  • Wimbledon Men's Final - Federer vs. Murray - ESPN 9:00 am - One of the great traditions in sports is the Sunday morning men's final in England. Federer looking for Major #17 and Murray holding the latest chance for a British Wimbledon champ. Tune in if you're free.
  • Braves @ Phillies - Jurrjens vs. Worley - TBS/Peachtree TV 1:30 - The series ender in Philly, as the Braves look for a sweep.
  • Yankees @ Red Sox - Nova vs. Lester - ESPN 8:00 - Who do you think has the better ERA in this match-up? That's right, Ivan Nova! Lester has struggled to a 4.33 ERA this year, and facing the Yankees usually doesn't help that particular number. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

7/5: NBA Moves Galore!

Greetings everyone! A lot to get to on the day after the fourth... Let's go...

  • Steve Nash is headed... to LA?! The Lakers and Suns have agreed to a sign-and-trade that will send the 2-time MVP to the Lakers in exchange for 4 draft picks with 2 first-rounders ('13 and '15) and 2 second-rounders ('13 and '14) headed to Phoenix. Nash will sign a 3-year, $27 million deal with the Lakers and LA will absorb that contract into the trade exception they received when they jettisoned Lamar Odom before last season. This is huge news in the Western Conference since LA immediately jumps back into legit contender status with the addition of Nash, and he provides them with outside shooting and a facilitator that they badly needed. I'm thoroughly interested to see how he and Kobe (who reportedly begged him to come) play together, and that'll be must-see TV. The Lakers still desperately need an athletic wing who can guard, but for today, they are better. Phoenix knew they'd be losing Nash either way, and this is a reasonable haul for him without taking back any contracts, although the first-rounders will likely be pretty low (at least the one in 2013 will be). 
  • Speaking of the Suns (transition), they signed two players yesterday. First, Goran Dragic was inked to a 4-year, $34 million deal to replace Nash, and then Michael Beasley was given 3 years and $18 million to give them a wing scorer. I like the Dragic move a lot, as that is perfectly reasonable money for him, he knows the Alvin Gentry system, and he's pretty similar to Nash in a lot of respects. The Beasley move... not so much. He's a one-dimensional scorer who doesn't provide much value elsewhere, but with that said, in this system he could easily average 20 points a game. I think the Suns will be pretty bad, but you can do worse than Dragic and Gortat at the point and center spots. 
  • Jason Terry to Boston? This deal has reportedly been "agreed to" but Terry will receive $5 million a year for 3 years from the C's to likely replace Ray Allen. The Terry/Avery Bradley combo would be pretty nice at the wing, and Terry is at least comparable (if not better at this point) than a hobbled Ray Allen. He provides them with the shooter they need alongside Rondo, and I like the fit for the most part. Dallas is said to be coveting financial flexibility, so they're unlikely to step up with a bigger offer before the July 11th signing deadline. 
  • Spencer Hawes is staying in Philly for 2 years and $13 million. I'm unmoved by this one. It's decent money for a decent center, and Philly appears to like what they have despite what I perceive as a pretty low ceiling. They're the new Hawks. 
  • And one more for the road... Oklahoma City and former #2 pick Hasheem Thabeet have agreed to a 2-year deal. I'm wildly interested to see how people cover this one. I actually think it's a reasonable flyer on a guy who has exactly one skill (shot-blocking), but he's been really, really bad in his NBA career and if most teams signed him, they'd be killed for it. There are a handful of teams who seem to have immunity on this type of move, and OKC (and namely, Sam Presti) is one of them.
  • Cubs 5, Braves 1 - The lowly Cubs have taken 2 of the first 3 against the Braves thanks to 3 home runs last night off of Delgado and Venters. Delgado threw a "quality start" of 6 innings and 3 earned runs, and gave the Braves a chance to win, but the bats went silent against Braves-killer Paul Maholm. Maholm now has a 1.34 ERA in 7 career starts against Atlanta despite a 4.39 ERA total, and the Braves couldn't solve him. Not a great sign when you're battling for a series split with the least favorable pitching matchup of the series on Thursday.
  • The Miami Marlins have acquired Carlos Lee. Houston got 2 minor-leaguers from Miami in the deal, although Houston agreed to pay the entire $9 million that Lee had remaining. I'm indifferent of the move for Miami as they add another middling first-baseman to go along with Sanchez and Morrison, but Lee can hit rolling out of bed, so at worst, he'll be league-average.
What to watch for on Thursday...
  • MLB - Cubs @ Braves - 7:10 SportSouth - Garza vs. Minor - Could really use the "good" Mike Minor tonight...
  • MLB - Giants @ Nats - 7:10 MLB - Cain vs. Detwiler - Matt Cain to the national audience. Can't go wrong.
  • Wimbledon - Starting at 8:00 am on ESPN - Things are heating up on the grass courts. Tune in.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The 2012 Atlanta Braves: Half-Season Review

Greetings everyone! I've undoubtedly neglected coverage of the Braves in this space, so I'll try to make it up to you with a giant half-season review. Let's get it going...

Current Record (at time of writing): 41-39 (.513), 3rd place in NL East
Projected Record (by me): 44-36 (.556)

The Lineup
  • C - Brian McCann - If there has been one position player who has failed to meet expectations, it has unquestionably been Brian McCann. With 9 home runs in 261 plate appearances combined with an OBP of .291 and slugging of just .380, this half-season represents the worst of McCann's career, and if he continued at this pace, he'd post an OPS over 100 points lower than the worst season of his career. Do we really think McCann is "done"? At age 28? I don't think so. There is reason to suspect that he'll never return to having an OPS in the high .800s like he did early in his career, and having caught nearly 1000 games already won't help that, but I can't fathom a world where he hits with an under .700 OPS at age 28. It's going to bounce back. 
  • 1B - Freddie Freeman - We know Freeman has solid power, that he strikes out too much, that he is great around the bag with his glove, and that he has absolutely no defensive range. What has he done this year? Slugged .449 (.448 last year), struck out 67 times in 283 plate appearances for 23.8% (22.3% last year), and his defensive metrics have remained fairly level. It's too soon to indicate that this is the best Freeman will ever be, because at age 22, he's still wildly young to be in his 2nd full year as a starting first baseman, but even if this is what we can ask for, he's easily worth the money/investment that the Braves have placed in him, and he's productive enough. I could see a slight up-tick in his 2nd half performance as he's currently swinging a hot bat and battled some injuries in half #1. 
  • 2B - Dan Uggla - Morphing more and more into a "three true outcomes" player. In his 332 plate appearances, he has 92 strikeouts, 52 walks, and 11 home runs. That's 155 times, good for almost half of his at-bats. There is direct correlation between Uggla's power and the amount of times he strikes out, and if you take a look at 2011 and 2012, it's clear that the Braves want him to be aggressive, strike out a lot, and hit home runs. He's gone cold over the last few weeks, which coincides with a dip to just a .770 OPS, but he's a guy who's better in the second-half historically with a 30 point bump, and that would be nice to see. Uggla has already been worth 2.2 wins above replacement (according to BB-Reference), which already surpasses his 1.7 wins in the dreaded 2011 season. He's a player.
  • SS - Andrelton Simmons/Tyler Pastornicky - Tyler Pastornicky posted a -1.5 WAR in 45 games. Andrelton Simmons posted a 2.2 WAR in 27 games. That's impossible. Granted, Pastornicky managed just a .605 OPS to go with his atrocious defensive output, while Simmons may be the best defensive SS in baseball. That accounts for some of the jump, but the fact that Simmons has actually hit in the majors is a bonus that the Braves can't rely on. Simmons' OPS of .874 since his debut is insanely high when you consider that he never approached that number at any level in the minors, but here's the key. He doesn't need to hit to be valuable. Simmons is SO good defensively that his glove will carry him as long as he doesn't post an OPS of .500. It's that simple. The decision to go with Pastornicky out of Spring training will be debated, but I don't think I'd kill the Braves as much as it may look. Simmons hadn't shown he could remotely handle the bat at this level, and Pastornicky was the "safe" choice. That said, Simmons is the vastly superior option even when he stops hitting, because when you're playing defense between Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla, you need help.
  • 3B - Chipper Jones - The Magic 3rd Baseman has been everything we knew he'd be. In 180 plate appearances, Chipper has 21 walks to just 19 strikeouts, 6 home runs, and an OPS of .828. He's still quite a valuable hitter when he's in the lineup. That said, he has just 180 plate appearances, and has only appeared in 45 games in any capacity. We'll discuss the acquisition of Juan Francisco later (read: a disaster), but in the meantime, let's get back to praying for health for Chipper Jones.
  • LF - Martin Prado - As you'll see by the next 3 entries, the outfield has been utterly tremendous. Martin Prado is currently leading the team in OPS (.846), doubles (22), and on-base percentage (.383) as he's already walked 31 times in 339 PA's compared to just 34 walks in 590 PA's last year. He's become a more disciplined, strike-oriented hitter and the results have been staggering. Prado will never be a power guy (just 5 homers so far), but if he produces doubles at this rate and continues to take walks, he's a very, very good player. I think we can reasonably expect that this is near the peak for Prado, and there may be a slight regression coming, but with the adjustment to his approach, this may be sustainable, and his 3.1 WAR is fantastic.
  • CF - Michael Bourn - Bourn has been the best player on the Braves this season. He leads the team (easily) with a 3.5 WAR in the first half, leads the team in steals with 23, hits with 102, and runs scored with 53. Keep in mind that Bourn is an absolutely elite defensive player in center field, and that he's actually under his normal stolen base pace, and he's crazy valuable. Not much else to say here. I think the 7 home runs he hit in the 1st half are completely unsustainable, but with a slight bump in the stolen base department, that could virtually off-set and we're looking at a 5+ win player.
  • RF - Jason Heyward - It's all coming together, folks. Heyward has been on an absolute tear since the beginning of June, putting up a 1.053 OPS for the month with 6 home runs while making countless pinpoint throws from right field, and playing elite defense for the position. Heyward is still not a Ryan Braun-type hitter who could post a 1.000 OPS for the season, but I firmly believe it's reasonable to assume he's turned the corner a bit now that he's playing with 100% health, and if you remember that he has great plate discipline and plays great defense, we're home free. Heyward has already been worth 2.4 WAR this season, equaling his entire total from 2011, and 4.5-5 wins is certainly not out of the question. Pray for health.
The Bench
  • C - David Ross - OPS of .794, above-average defense, and positive WAR from your backup catcher. It's comical that his (very solid) numbers would actually represent a downgrade from where he's been the last two seasons, but Ross is the best backup catcher in baseball, and he'll continue to be so in my opinion, at least for this year.
  • 1B/OF - Eric Hinske - Hinske has been a bit of a train wreck in 2012. After a solid April that saw him put up a .791 OPS in 25 at-bats (small sample alert), he's completely fallen apart. For reference, he's 12 for his last 74 at the plate with only 7 walks and zero power, which has resulted an OPS south of .500. This is particularly bad for a player like Hinske who provides nothing (really, worse than nothing) with his glove, and the positional "flexibility" that he brings is minimal when the 2nd position he can play is first base. He's part of an overall bench issue, that we'll talk about more when we get to Juan Francisco.
  • OF - Matt Diaz - In Matt Diaz's career, he has an OPS of .866 against left-handed pitching and an OPS of .677 against right-handed pitching. In 2012 alone, Diaz has an OPS of .764 against LHP and an OPS (yes, OPS) of .304 against right-handed pitchers. Are we sensing a trend? Matt Diaz should never take an at-bat against a right-handed pitcher unless the only alternative is a pitcher hitting in the same spot. He is a luxury that a team could have if the rest of the bench supported his position perfectly, but it is very, very tough to employ Diaz with his below-average (being kind) defense, and inability to hit right-handers on a team that also employs Eric Hinske and Juan Francisco. That said, Fredi can do a better job of deploying Diaz, and he is what he is at this point.
  • 3B - Juan Francisco - Prepare for the rant. The Juan Francisco trade has been an unmitigated disaster. A .659 OPS in 117 plate appearances can be explained away with small sample size, but the manner in which he's done it with three walks in those at-bats is pretty ugly. That's before realizing that his defense is far-below average and acknowledging that the Braves are unquestionably better with Martin Prado at 3rd base and Matt Diaz in left against left-handed pitchers and arguably as good with Prado at 3rd base and Eric Hinske in left against right-handed pitchers. As long as Chipper Jones is upright on not on the disabled list, Juan Francisco is a luxury that the Braves can't afford to carry, but because he is out of minor-league options and the Braves gave up a legitimate arm (JJ Hoover) for him, they're being forced to carry him despite better use for the roster spot. Let me say this. This isn't the fault of Juan Francisco at all, as he is virtually the player that most thought he'd be, but rather a failure in bench construction by Frank Wren, and a failure in deployment by Fredi Gonzalez. Not shocking on the latter.
  • SS/3B/2B - Jack Wilson - There isn't a whole lot to say about Wilson. The team needs to employ someone who can play shortstop when Andrelton Simmons isn't on the field, and with the defensive liability that Pastornicky showed himself to be, it's tough to argue that Wilson isn't the best option. He's never going to hit (career .672 OPS with under .600 since 2009), but he's still above-average with the glove, and within the organization, I'd rather employ him than anyone else for the final bench spot.
The Rotation
  • Tim Hudson - 3.87 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 2.39 strikeout to walk ratio. Sounds like Tim Hudson, right? He's been a bit unlucky with the ERA, and his injury concern (his ankle) is a scary one, but Tim Hudson is a reliable option to provide high-end, but not elite, production. Gone are the days when he was a #1 starter, but Hudson is the guy I'd most want to see on the mound for any game, and a mid-to-low 3's ERA can be expected with solid peripherals and good control. Hudson is who he is, and I like that.
  • Tommy Hanson - Tommy continues to have the highest upside of any Braves starter. 87 strikeouts in 99 innings to go along with a 3.70 ERA and that snapping curve ball that buckles hitters. The issues with Tommy in 2012 have been his walk rate and his home run rate. He's walking a career high 3.34 batters per 9 innings and allowing 1.44 home runs per nine, both of which are career-worsts. It's a fairly small sample size on both accounts, but I'd expect (and hope) for a regression to the mean, and a slight bump in overall production in the second half.
  • Mike Minor - It's been a roller coaster for Mr. Minor. The 6.20 ERA he put up in the 1st-half is obviously hideous, but the underlying numbers leave room for slight encouragement. First of all, Minor's xFIP is a much more reasonable 4.71. That number is pretty bad in itself, but the run and a half difference isn't normal. The other thing is the disastrous May that he had (with nearly a 10 ERA) has been bookended by reasonable production in April and June. I'm not excited for Minor this season, but it would be too quick to slam the door on a guy with good stuff and decent upside in the future.
  • Randall Delgado - His WAR of -0.2 tells the story. He's basically slightly below league average. 4.52 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP and a 7.2 K-rate won't kill you but if he's anything but your #5 starter, you're taking on water. It's unfair to Delgado to judge him harshly based upon the fact that he really was never the plan for the rotation, but with Jurrjens and Teheran struggling, Medlen in the bullpen, and Beachy on the shelf, it's Delgado time! I think he can repeat his first half, and by definition, not kill the Braves. 
  • Jair Jurrjens - Oh, Jair. You may remember in this space that I was one of the lone voices in the wilderness preaching caution during his amazing 1st-half in 2011. The peripherals simply didn't stack up to the performance and I maintained that he was nothing more than a mid-rotation guy. I'll stop crowing now, but I'll also tell you that he's almost certainly not as bad as he's been in 2012 unless he is injured. Prior to demotion, he had an ERA of 9.37. After demotion, in 2 starts admittedly, his ERA is around 2. His FIP and xFIP would indicate he should be around 6.00 right now, and that's not a surprise with how terrible he was early, but if you told me he'd post a 4.00 ERA and make 90% of his starts the rest of the way, I wouldn't laugh at you.
  • Ben Sheets? - The Braves just signed former Brewer Ben Sheets to a minor-league deal and he reportedly looks electric. Just a note to keep an eye on him in case he can a) remain healthy, and b) regain his old early-to-mid 2000s form.
The Bullpen 
  • Craig Kimbrel - To summarize, he's the best closer on the planet. 1.50 ERA, 23 saves, FIP of 1.15 and xFIP of 1.45, strikeout rate of 15 per nine and a reasonable walk rate of 3 per nine. He's the best in the business. There's not much else to say about it other than I wish Fredi would deploy him in better spots sometimes. There it is.
  • Jonny Venters - There are two issues with Venters this season. His home run rate went from 0.2 per nine last season to 1.47 per nine this season, and his ground ball rate has spiked from 73% down to 59% accompanied by a BABIP jump from .242 to .436. He's been wildly unlucky this season. I'll allow for the fact that's actually been pretty lucky in his major league career if you look at the numbers and that the real Venters is in the middle, but he's most certainly an above-average bullpen guy and he hasn't pitched like it this season. I'm not alarmed except for his control issues, and I expect him to adjust to "the book" that is now out on him. Don't give up.
  • Eric O'Flaherty - Rebounded from a bad April (4.91 ERA) with 2 solid months and now sits with an ERA of 3.18. It's becoming increasingly clear that he can't get righties out, and everyone knows this except for Fredi Gonzalez. That said, he's an exceptional LOOGY at worst, and situationally, he's fantastic. The sub-1.00 ERA from last year is a complete mirage, but he's still a solid option when used correctly.
  • Chad Durbin - Durbin looked to be the worst acquisition of the off-season after an April where he had a 9.00 ERA and seemed to allow a home run in every appearance. Since then? Durbin has been lights-out with sub-3.00 ERAs in both months and decent numbers. I'm still wary of his production in the long-term but he's at least earned a role.
  • Cristhian Martinez - First of all, Martinez has been used in a way that does not concur with how he should be used. He would've been perfectly effective as the team's long man OR as the team's primary right-handed guy before Kimbrel. Neither of those has taken place. He was relegated to Long Man #2 under Livan Hernandez for much of the year, and as a result, only has 40 innings as a guy who can go 3-4 at a time when needed. That said, Martinez is solid but nothing more.
  • Kris Medlen - Speaking of mismanagement! Medlen was managed in a less-than-stellar way in two different areas. First of all, he was sent to the minors to stretch out in an attempt to take a spot in the rotation... only to be recalled and stuck back in the bullpen. The move wreaked of panic from the time that it happened, and still doesn't make sense now with both Delgado and Minor on the verge of demotion. The second mismanagement of Medlen has always been Fredi's inability to realize who Medlen is. In his career, Kris Medlen has allowed an OPS over 90 points lower to left-handed batters than to right-handed batters. JUST BECAUSE HE'S RIGHT-HANDED DOESN'T MEAN HE CAN'T GET LEFTIES OUT! Sorry for the yelling, but because of Medlen's elite change-up, he's absolutely not a righty specialist, and shouldn't ever be used as such. This isn't even a sabermetric discussion, it's a simple platoon split. Come on Fredi!
So, there you go. I won't review Anthony Varvaro because there isn't enough data yet, but that's pretty much the entire active roster. I firmly believe this is an above .500 team without question, and whether or not the Braves make a run at a wild-card spot or even a division title strictly depends on the starting pitching. Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Jair Jurrjens, Kris Medlen, Ben Sheets, and trade candidate X are undoubtedly the answer to the question of "most important piece in the second half", and we'll see what happens. As currently constructed, I would ride with Minor/Delgado/Jurrjens until somebody falls apart or Sheets shows that he is back to his old self. If nothing else, it'll be interesting, and the spotlight is squarely on Fredi Gonzalez to sort this all out. Godspeed to us all.

Go Braves. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

7/3: What a Day.

Greetings everyone! Before we get started, let me apologize for the spotty posting... It's time to be more diligent, and I'll get more content up in this space. Please stay tuned! Let's get it....
  • The Atlanta Hawks have overhauled the roster and the entire future... in about 90 minutes on Monday afternoon. Joe Johnson was dealt to the Nets for 5 expiring contracts and a conditional 1st-round pick, while Marvin Williams was traded to Utah in exchange for the expiring contract of Devin Harris. On the court? The Hawks are substantially worse for the Johnson deal and marginally better for the Williams deal. For future roster building and cap management? These moves are complete god-sends, and actually open the door to building a roster that could (gasp) compete for a title down the road with the right management. I absolutely love what happened on Monday, and Danny Ferry is the man as far as I'm concerned. I've given you the short version here, but if you'd like to take a look at the long-winded explanation, head over to see my post at SDS here:
  • Staying with hoops, the US Hoops team has caught the injury bug with regards to the London olympics. Anthony Davis has sustained an ankle injury that will keep him off the team, and while he wasn't necessarily a lock anyway, the US has already lost Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Lamarcus Aldridge, and even Andrew Bynum from the list due to injury, and the frontcourt is in ugly shape. On the bright side? We have guys like Lebron, Durant, and Carmelo that can easily play the power forward spot in International competition, but let's please make sure we surround Tyson Chandler with a bubble until the games begin.
  • The Braves dropped the series-opener to the Cubs by a score of 4-1. For the first time in a month and a half, the Braves played a team with a below .500 record, but the Cubs got 11 K's and 7 innings from Jeff Samardzija and that was enough to get the win. Tommy Hanson allowed a 3-run double in the 7th that proved to be the difference, and after pretty much cruising through 6, he hit the starters wall that has plagued the entire rotation this season. This is a series that the Braves need to at least split, if not take 3 of 4, so this is an inauspicious start. 
  • MLB Round-up - Allen Craig blasted 2 home runs to lead the Cardinals to a 9-3 win over Colorado in St. Louis. Garrett Jones had a 4-5 day with a home run to push the Pirates to an 11-2 win over Houston. Jared Weaver threw 7 shut-out innings for the Angels as they blanked the Indians 3-0, and finally, former Michigan quarterback Clayton Richard nearly missed a complete by going 8.2 innings of 2-run ball against the Diamondbacks, and that effort combined with a majestic blast by Cameron Maybin dismissed Arizona.
What to watch for on Tuesday...
  • MLB - Cubs @ Braves - 7:10 SportSouth - Volstad vs. Jurrjens - Chris Volstad always seems to be a pest to the Braves, but he's pretty brutal and should be a guy the Braves can take advantage of. Jurrjens is coming off back-to-back solid performances, and this could be another.
  • MLB - Yankees @ Rays - 7:10 MLB - Nova vs. Shields - James Shields was one of the best pitchers in the league last year, but he's been pretty average this year (trust me on this one as a fantasy owner), and the Yankees lineup doesn't provide any relief. 
  • Wimbledon - ESPN Family of Networks - Starting 7:00 am, all day - If there was ever a tennis tournament I'd watch, this would be it.
Enjoy it...