Winning Isn't Everything

Written by Chop-N-Change on .

I do not believe in absolutes.

Yes, I recognize the paradox inherent in that statement. But as a general rule, I feel confident saying that you couldn't tell me one statement of opinion for which I can't present an opposing viewpoint. Feel free to try me in the comments.

But I was idly browsing the internet earlier today when I came upon something that caused me to rethink the one thing that I've considered a Belief in the last few years. And, as is the wont of such things, that something was on Facebook. 

No, I don't mean the genius-level copywriting produced by an overworked, underpaid intern with a B.A. whose job it is to produce pithy sentences to get fans excited. Nor do I mean the fairly terrible Photoshop work performed by, um, well, probably the same guy. Nor even do I mean the fact that pitchers and catchers REPORT IN ONE MONTH, YOU GUYS!

What caught my eye was that they used Jason Heyward in the picture.

Now, on one hand, the association is natural. Not only are Heyward's Spring Training feats as close to legendary status as Spring Training feats can be -- who among us doesn't remember the story about him breaking the assistant GM's car window with a home run? -- but the two are irrevocably associated on an internal level as well. Heyward, like all top prospects, represents something more than just a baseball player; he's the physical embodiment of Hope and Future. And I can tell you that on Opening Day 2010, Braves fans were pretty thrilled that their version of Hope happened to be a linebacker-sized fella from Atlanta who mashed a home run off the starting pitcher for the Mercurial All-Stars, Carlos Zambrano.

But there's always an other hand, and if we fast forward two seasons, we see it in stark relief: people who feel personally offended that this 23-year old struggled through injury on his way to a season that was as disappointing for the young outfielder as it was for the team.  We saw people who believed Doctor Chipper Jones' sub-moronic advice that Heyward needed to be playing through injury for the good of the team and we saw people happy that Jose Constanza got to play over Heyward long after the little sparkplug's fire had burned out. Hell, we got enough of that confrontation on our own corner of the blogosphere, never mind what was happening on Twitter or in the comments of, like MLB.com or the AJC.

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More fun with DOM

Written by Joe Lucia on .

In case you missed it earlier, I wrote about the Braves' usage of DOM and where the team's pitchers stood in the grand scheme of things. As I thought about it and crunched all the numbers, I thought that DOM might favor relievers more than it did starters, after seeing the higher numbers posted by the team's bullpen in 2011. So I decided to take it upon myself to do a little more research into the topic.

Here are the top ten DOM numbers for relievers in baseball in 2011.

Koji Uehara 1.809
Kenley Jansen 1.714
Craig Kimbrel 1.588
Jonathan Papelbon 1.450
Tyler Clippard 1.405
Rafael Betancourt 1.352
David Robertson 1.333
Greg Holland 1.321
Sergio Santos 1.314
Antonio Bastardo 1.296

 
The highest FIP of those ten players belongs to Clippard, at 3.17. Of the top ten relievers in baseball in FIP, five are on that list, including all of the top four.

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How much will the departure of David Ross hurt?

Written by Joe Lucia on .

By now, all the dust has settled and all the smoke has cleared. The four year Braves career of David Ross has come to an end, as the veteran backup catcher has signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox for an average of $3.1 million per season. A lot of Braves fans are crushed over Ross leaving the team, and with good reason - he was an awesome and productive member of the team.

In his four seasons with the Braves (2009-2012), Ross was paid just $6.2 million (coincidentally, the exact amount he'll get over the next two years in Boston) and provided the Braves with 6.4 fWAR in 663 plate appearances. That is an absolutely insane level of production off the bench. To put that in perspective, Chipper Jones provided 5.0 fWAR of value over the last two seasons in 960 plate appearances while making $26 million. Defense has *a lot* to do with those fWAR numbers, but nevertheless, that puts into perspective just how valuable Ross has been.

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A six man rotation is an awful idea

Written by Joe Lucia on .

For all the crapping on Fredi Gonzalez we do for his awful moves, he's done some good things this year. This however, is not one of them. The Braves will activate Tommy Hanson from the DL and start him on Friday, and go with a six man rotation until August 30th (when the team has an off day).

Hanson will start on Friday against the Dodgers, who have a .680 OPS (third worst in the NL). His second start looks to be on August 23rd against the Giants, who have a .710 OPS (sixth worst in the NL). His third start before a decision will be made for September on the rotation will be on August 29th against the Padres, who have a .680 OPS (a fraction of a point behind the Dodgers, and the second worst mark in the NL). So essentially, Hanson will be given every opportunity to succeed. Keep in mind, this is a particularly cushy part of the Braves schedule, with seven against the Padres, four against the Giants, three against the Dodgers, and three against the HATED NATIONALS coming over the next three turns in the order.

The crucial series this month are obviously the back to back road trips against the Nationals and Giants next week. You could actually argue that Fredi's handling of the rotation makes sense here, as the only pitcher to start in both series is Tim Hudson, the team's best starter all year. He'll start the opener in Washington next Monday, and the closer in San Francisco in two Sundays. Hudson, Paul Maholm (fresh off of a complete game shuout in New York), and Kris Medlen (who has been dominant in three starts this year, albeit against bad teams) will start in Washington, and I really can't complain about any of the three.

My main issue with giving Hanson every opportunity to succeed is well...he doesn't deserve it. Since the All-Star Break, he has a 7.45 ERA (third worst on the team behind the demoted Anthony Varvaro and the "injured" Jair Jurrjens). The next worst mark on the entire pitching staff belongs to Hudson, who has a 4.29 ERA while somehow managing to walk fewer hitters than Hanson in 16 1/3 more innings. Hanson has walked nearly a batter per inning since the break, and even discounting the disaster in Miami a couple of weeks ago, he hasn't been good. Hell, he's not even going deep into games. He's gone into the sixth inning just once since the break. What the hell?

Hanson probably isn't going to turn into the ace we all thought he would be when he was kicking the bejeezus out of the minors in 2008 and 2009. After a fantastic 2010, he's taken turns south in both 2011 and 2012, and he just isn't a viable option right now. His fastball isn't even averaging 90 mph this year. In his last start on July 30th, Hanson's fastball *averaged* 88mph, and topped out at a hair above 90. Looking at the PitchFX graph, it looked like he only topped 90 twice...on 45 fastballs. That's not good at all.

This has kind of developed into me rambling about Hanson, and I apologize for that. But the guy just isn't one of the Braves top five starters right now. Hell, when you figure Randall Delgado into the mix, is he even one of the top six starters right now? The six-man rotation worries the hell out of me, but if Hanson can't succeed in his three turns through the rotation this month...he shouldn't be making any more starts for the rest of the year. Period.

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Say goodbye to Michael Bourn

Written by Joe Lucia on .

bourn2Braves center fielder Michael Bourn is having a career year, just three short months from hitting free agency for the first time in his career. Bourn has sparked Atlanta's offense this year, OPSing .758 at the top of the order with a team-leading 29 stolen bases. His eight homers are a career high, and more than he had in the last three seasons combined. Bourn is also an elite defender in center field, logging 13.2 UZR and +13 DRS. However, despite how valuable he's been for the Braves this season, there is no chance in hell he's going to be a Brave past this season. Let me explain.

Even before Buster Olney's confirmation that the Phillies coveted Bourn, any sane baseball fan knew that the Phillies would have interest after dealing impending free agent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers last week. When Philly gets involved in negotiations, a player's price goes through the roof. Before the season, everyone assumed that Bourn would get a contract in the range of five years and $60 million. That's out the window now after Bourn's fantastic year, and of course, the interest of a large market club. The new salary estimate for Bourn starts at $16 million per season, and while you can argue the merits of giving that kind of money to a soon-to-be 30-year old center fielder who's best asset is his speed, the Braves simply cannot afford to pay that kind of money to one player with their current payroll situation unless the deal was heavily backloaded.

First off, the Braves payroll is rather static. It's going to sit between $90 and $95 million, and there isn't a damn thing that anyone can do about it. Blame that on whoever the hell you want to (Liberty Media, Frank Wren, SportSouth, Atlanta fans, whatever), but nothing is changing in regards to the payroll unless something unforeseen happens. By "something unforeseen", I mean that a multi-billionaire offers Liberty 20% over market value for the team and pumps money into them like the team is a deflated cream puff, or that something happens with SportSouth that makes the network renegotiate the extremely favorable (for them at least) TV deal they have with the Braves. Quite frankly, I don't think either will be happening any time soon.

Looking at the Braves payroll for next year, despite Derek Lowe's behemoth contract coming off the books and Chipper Jones's retirement, there isn't a lot of wiggle room. Dan Uggla is owed $13.2 million, and that's not going to be going anywhere. Brian McCann has an option for 2013 that will surely be picked up for $12 million (at least, due to the presence of awards escalators that can bump it up by $3 million). Tim Hudson has a $9 million option that's going to be picked up (and bumped to $9.5 million in oh, six starts or so). Barring an awful two months with the team, new acquisition Paul Maholm has a $6.5 million option that will be picked up. With just those four players, the Braves payroll is over $41 million...or nearly halfway to the budgeted goal.

Then, you have to figure in the arbitration raises. Martin Prado is making $4.75 million, and let's guesstimate that he gets a raise to $6 million or so after his bounceback year. Eric O'Flaherty is making $2.49 million in his second to last arb year, and a raise to $3 million seems feasible. Bam, you're already over $50 million in payroll. Jair Jurrjens has a year left of arbitration, but there is no chance in hell that the Braves are going to pay him the $6 million he'd likely be awarded.

There are also the younger players who will be entering arbitration for the first time, and they're all guys that are pretty crucial parts to the team on varying degrees: Jason Heyward, Tommy Hanson, Jonny Venters, Kris Medlen, and Cristhian Martinez. It's a pain in the ass to determine value for first time arb players, but let's compare Heyward to Hunter Pence (who settled for $3.5 million as a Super Two in his first year of arb) and Hanson to Chad Billingsley (settled for $3.85 million in his first year of arb). Give the three relievers (or quasi-starter in Medlen's case) $1.2 million each, and you're at about $11 million for just those five players and something like $62 million overall.

This is the issue the Braves are faced with now. They'd have around $30 million or so left to spend on their team, and be short one outfielder (two if you move Prado to third), and three slots on the bench (assuming either of Janish/Pastornicky and Francisco are penciled in for the 2013 team). The rotation would look something like Hudson/Maholm/Hanson/Minor and one of Delgado, Teheran, Gilmartin, Medlen, etc. So if the Braves wanted to sign Bourn and throw say $18 million per year at him, they'd only have $12 million to fill the other holes on the team...which would likely be doled out to mediocrity, or hell, be eaten and have slots given to young players.

Keep in mind, that this entire piece says nothing about how silly it would be to give a player like Bourn a possible nine figure deal. I don't think Bourn will get Carl Crawford money by any means, but I think he'll get more than Torii Hunter. If this was the 90s, and the Braves' $90 million payroll was one of the top five in the league, I could rationalize a long-term deal for Bourn at a comparable rate. But in the year 2012, where $90 million doesn't even put you in the league's top ten...it just doesn't make sense for this team at this point in time.

Photo courtesy of Daylife.com

The struggling Braves bullpen

Written by Joe Lucia on .

The Atlanta Braves bullpen is a different animal in 2012 thusfar than it was in all of 2011. Last year's Braves bullpen had a 3.11 ERA and 3.12 FIP in March & April, and a 2.91 ERA and 3.42 FIP in May. This year, the pen had a 3.91 ERA and 3.57 FIP in April, and a 4.48 ERA and 4.41 FIP in May. That is a HUGE difference when looking at a crew of seven pitchers, with the best three returning from 2011 to 2012.

Before everyone immediately starts pinning the struggles of this year's bullpen on Chad Durbin, remember that the 2011 pen had Jairo Asencio destroy his chances at ever making it in Atlanta in April, and Scott Proctor sabotage the world in May. And actually, Durbin has calmed down quite a bit in May. His 2.38 ERA is second lowest in the pen for the month (*what?!*), but his 4.95 FIP is second-worst. Regardless, both are improvements over April, when his ERA was 9.00 and his FIP was a starting 7.38. 

The pen was largely fine in April, aside from Durbin. The only FIPs higher than 3.20 belonged to Durbin and (perhaps shockingly) Eric O'Flaherty, sitting at 4.37 and adding a  4.91 ERA to the crew as well. May on the other hand, was an unmitigated disaster. Only two pitchers had a FIP under that 3.20 mark, and one of them is currently in Gwinnett stretching to be a starter (obviously, Kris Medlen). The other one, and the best pitcher on the staff, is once again Craig Kimbrel.

But what is the absolute root of the bullpen's struggles? A lot of it just has to do with luck coming back and slapping the Braves in the face. The league averaage HR/FB rate for relievers is 10.0%. Four of the Braves seven relievers have posted marks higher than that, including Jonny Venters at an eye-popping 27.3%. Venters had allowed a total of three homers over 171 innings over 2010 and 2011, and has allowed three in 20 1/3 innings this year. Dumb luck, or a sign of something worse? I'm not going to say that Venters' career is over, but his groundball rate is down to 55.9%, after being above 68% in his first two years in the majors. Furthermore, he has a 25% line drive rate, which is just terrible. The .466 BABIP possessed by Venters also suggests that he's just terribly unlucky, but with that line drive rate, it makes a little more sense. On the other side of the coin, he has career bests in both strikeout and walk rates, signifying that there's still something there. His fastball velocity though, has dropped one mile per hour from 2011 to 2012. That's a little concerning.

The other negative option from the bullpen is Eric O'Flaherty, initially brought to the team in 2009 as a LOOGY, but then was transitioned into the seventh inning role. Last season, when O'Flaherty had a 0.98 ERA, he was aided by a 92.3% strand rate and 3.9% FB/HR. This year, those marks have regressed to 75.3% and 16.7%, which seem a little more realistic. As a result, his ERA is 3.66 and his FIP is 4.18. Oh, and there's the righty thing. O'Flaherty is allowing a 1.018 OPS to righties, and he's faced 54 of them compared to just 34 lefties. Last year, O'Flaherty faced four times as many righties as lefties, and held them to just a .599 OPS. That's a little low for a guy who's allowed righties to a .739 OPS over his career, in comparison to the .560 OPS he's held lefties to.

You can point your finger at Durbin or old man Livan (who has actually been perfectly adequate in his role) all you want, but quite frankly, the Braves bullpen is struggling because two of the big three (on an aside, how silly was it for people to get obsessed over a nickname for a reliever trio when only one of those relievers possesses long-term sustainable dominance?) are struggling terribly this year. The only player to amass less fWAR than either O'Flaherty or Venters this year is Durbin, and everyone pretty much expected that.

One HUGE positive note for the Braves bullpen, though. If Venters and O'Flaherty do manage to put it together over the season's final four months, they'll be fresh. They've combined to throw just 40 innings this year (with Kimbrel adding 20 of his own), while last year, O'Flaherty logged 26 1/3 innings over the season's first third, with Venters clocking in at a mind-blowing 33 2/3 innings. For comparison's sake, Kimbrel had 27 innings over that timespan, and actually pitched worse than he has so far this year. At least Fredi is attempting to make sure a late-season bullpen meltdown doesn't happen this September.

Photos courtesy of Daylife.com

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Chipper Jones Walks It Off

Written by Paddy McMahon on .

I came home from work today to find a piece of paper wedged in my apartment door. This is not uncommon; I and the other residents in my building have had notices ranging from spraying for snakes (I live in Wisconsin, which so ... ?) to telling any and all possible offenders to stop putting nails behind the tires of a Camaro in the parking lot (yes, seriously). 

But this time, I was the only one with the paper, so I unfolded it and read that my apartment is to be shown to a prospective lessee tomorrow (today? whatever) at 1430 and that it is to be presentable. So, being a kindhearted soul (hey, Madison landlords -- tweet me!) I embarked on a full-fledged cleaning escapade. Unfortunately, 'kindhearted soul' is second to 'degenerate slob' in my own personal self-description (uh, forget that sentence, Madison landlords), so this was to be a several-hour endeavor. I turned on the Braves game for some accompaniment, watched the Phillies jump out to a 6-0 lead, then turned it off.

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The 2012 Braves, endless optimism, and Fredi Gonzalez

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Two games into the season, and the Braves are 0-2. Most fans, casual and die hard alike, are going to point at the fact that we're still in the first week of April and that there are still 160 games to get the ship corrected and for the Braves to win 90 games and make the playoffs. I'm not so sure about that anymore, and it has nothing to do with the disappointing on-field performance of the players. Nope, as usual, it comes when I look in the dugout and see who's managing this team.

Fredi Gonzalez is...disappointing to me as Braves manager, 164 games into his tenure. The way he goes about certain things absolutely boggles my mind. Fredi's managerial style thusfar during his Braves career almost reminds me of a kid who was given the keys to a sportscar for his 18th birthday, and is told to go to the store to pick up milk. During the ride, the kid has no idea what he's doing. He drives in the wrong gear and burns the clutch, he sideswipes a few parked cars, he runs red lights...but at the end of the day, he gets the milk, and that's all that matters, right? Just because the end result of a situation is what you intended it to be doesn't mean the process to get to said result was correct. In my above scenario, the process was an absolute disaster that should have resulted in something going horribly wrong. And just because nothing went wrong, we're all supposed to sing kumbaya and be happy? That's a big heaping load of garbage. Trust the process, not the results. And Fredi's process, during his tenure last season and already this season, is an absolute trainwreck.

Gonzalez is like the kid who has the keys to the sportscar, and has no idea what he's doing. Matt Diaz is pretty much useless as a major league hitter at this point, yet he started Thursday's game against the Mets, and pinch hit as the tying run yesterday. I can actually buy the argument to start Diaz against the left-handed Johan Santana on Thursday. I'm not going to cite splits against a pitcher (because I think they are roughly a giant load of garbage), but as everyone and their mother knows, MATT DIAZ IS A LEFT-HANDED PITCHING KILLER. He went 1/2 with a double off of Santana, but when Johan was pulled going into the sixth inning, it was Diaz who trotted up to the plate against a right-handed Ramon Ramirez with men on second and third. Of course, almost like it was God himself smacking Fredi on the knuckles with a ruler, Diaz grounded out on the second pitch against Ramirez to end the last situation with multiple men on the Braves would have all day.

Tommy Hanson got pulled after three batters in the sixth, when the Mets would score their only run, and was replaced with Kris Medlen. Cool. Good move. Now is when Fredi pulls the double switch to get Diaz out of the game. But instead of doing the largely logical thing and putting Juan Francisco (who my feelings on will require another thousand words) at third and moving Martin Prado into left...he brings in the slap hitting phenom himself, Jose Constanza, to play left field. When it was revealed that Constanza had made the Braves Opening Day roster, fans such as myself were terrified. We were all told to calm down, because it was just for a week until Chipper was back, and that Constanza was only put on the roster because he was already on the 40-man (ignoring the fact that the team had open spots on the 40-man, of course). In the back of our heads, we all know that Constanza would have an effect on this team because Fredi has a nasty fetish for him. Sure enough, Constanza was now in left field and due up third in the inning. Naturally, Tyler Pastornicky tripled with one out to bring Constanza up with a chance to tie the game. As much as I despite the Francisco transaction, I'll admit this: the dude's swing is so damn violent that if he makes contact, he's at least getting the ball in the air. This is when Mets manager Terry Collins brought in his lefty specialist Tim Byrdak (despite a reverse platoon split for Constanza), and Constanza's at bat was such a disaster that I don't even want to relive it. Essentially, he struck out and looked like a fool on the third strike pitch, swinging at a pitch so far out of the zone that it would have hit a right-handed batter. While Francisco is an unmitigated disaster against lefties, 60% of his contact against them is on a line or in the air. That's what the team needed at that point, not an at bat from a guy who hit groundballs over 60% fo the time last year.

The rest of the game went swimmingly, and the Braves went down without a fight. Of course they did, it's only natural. I especially loved the use of Jonny Venters, who looked like a complete mess in his inning of work, allowing three baserunners and only getting two swings and misses while throwing more pitches than Medlen did in his two innings. The extreme overuse of Venters over the past two seasons is something to keep an eye on this year.

Let me get back to Fredi, and yesterday's game. Jair Jurrjens looked like absolute garbage out there yesterday (102 pitches, 4 1/3 innings pitched, two swinging strikes, two homers, and a partridge in a pear tree), and the bullpen usage following his departure was also bizarre. After six, it was a 3-2 Mets lead. Livan Hernandez (who threw a sinker that, I swear to god, didn't crack 84 all day) held the Mets scoreless in relief of Jurrjens despite allowing three hits. One run game, seventh inning, who do you go to? It's gotta be the washed up and decaying corpse of Chad Durbin (who's probably worth another 500 words on his own), right? Of course, Durbin got beaten like a rented mule, allowing three hits and a run on a Lucas Duda homer to make it a 4-2 game and essentially extinguish Atlanta's hopes of winning since the offense is so damn bad. What puzzled me is that after Durbin's inning, he was pulled and replaced with Cristhian Martinez, a much more effective reliever. Hell, Livan was signed in the first place so Martinez could throw more meaningful innings. How in the name of all that is holy is being down two runs in the eighth more meaningful than being down one run in the seventh? It legitimately makes no sense to me, and I can't rationalize it at all. Of course, Martinez retired the heart of the Mets order on seven pitches. The damage was done by then, and that was that.

My final qualm with Fredi over the first two games in the season comes of his usage of pinch hitters in the ninth inning yesterday. With two outs and Freddie Freeman on second, Fredi pinch hits Eric Hinske for Tyler Pastornicky. I understand the logic...kind of. It's a two run game, you need a homer to tie, you want your big bopper up there....right? But here's the major issue with it all: what happens if Hinske reaches base without homering? Well...you have an interesting situation there. With the pitcher's spot following Pastornicky's in the order, you're going to need a pinch hitter there regardless. While he's a rookie, Pastornicky has much better speed than Hinske, and while he has a much lower chance of homering and tying the game up, he probably has about an equal chance of reaching base. Fredi essentially sold out in this situation and banked that it would be an all or nothing type situation from Hinske. Instead, what happened was a median of the two outcomes: Hinske singled. Now, another interesting choice. The tying run is on first base, but it comes in the form of a guy who runs like an iceberg. Fredi (smartly, but the situation could have been avoided overall by not using Hinske there) pinch runs for Hinske with Jack Wilson, who would take over at short if the Braves tied it or took the lead. Now, another issue rises up. Fredi has no pinch hitters left on his bench after burning Hinske for Pastornicky, burning Wilson for Hinske, and using the pathetic Constanza earlier in the game (as the first bat off the bench, no less). Well, he had two guys left. There was David Ross, a pretty damn good hitter, but one that cannot be used as a pinch hitter in any circumstances in case something happens to Brian McCann, and Diaz, who has such an aversion to hitting righties that you might as well not even bother. Predictably, Diaz got the call to pinch hit for Martinez, and struck out on four pitches. That's that, folks.

Last season, the Braves won 89 games and led the wild card until the final week of the season. They collapsed in epic fashion, and as much as everyone wants to point at the players not performing, the main finger should be pointed at the manager who put them in situations were the odds were against them succeeding. During the 2011 season, Fredi was driving the sportscar down the road with reckless abandon, cutting red lights, zooming past stop signs, and nicking cars all along his road to the playoffs. It looked like he'd get there fine, until he t-boned a car just a block from his overall destination. Instead of giving Fredi a new sportscar, or hell, repairing the old one and giving it to someone who can handle it properly, the Braves repaired their old car, and handed Fredi the keys again. Two games into the season, he's gone through a red light and nearly killed a pedestrian. If he doesn't learn how to drive properly, this trip is going to end like last year's: short of the ultimate goal, not because of the brilliant machine he's driving, but becuase of his horrendous skills behind the wheel. 

Braves-related notes from the 2012 Fielding Bible

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I got my copy of the 2012 edition of The Fielding Bible last week, and after digesting a lot of the information in it, I'm finally getting some thoughts down about it. In case you've never heard of it, The Fielding Bible is essentially a massive dump of defensive data, looking at pretty much every little defensive situation you can think of. This is some pretty overwhelming stuff if you're not ready, which is why I waited so long to get a post up. I'll take a look at each of the team's eight starters on defense, and a couple of pitchers.

Freddie Freeman had a horrible UZR, and fans immediately jumped to conclusions about how UZR was a flawed stat because they thought Freeman was great. Well, the FB agrees...kind of. Freeman had -2 runs saved in 2011, which is in the bottom half of the league (but nowhere near the worst). Freeman made 70 "good plays" and 30 "misplays" on the season, compared to the league average of 62 and 33. So he was above average in that regard. The average good play/misplay percentage is 50%, and Freeman was above average there at 55.5%.

2012 player preview: Freddie Freeman

Written by Joe Lucia on .

Freddie FreemanBy most accounts, Freddie Freeman's rookie year of 2011 was a rousing success. After all, he was the runner-up in the NL Rookie of the Year race (behind teammate Craig Kimbrel, who won the award unanimously), he finished third on the team with 21 homers, and he had a very good .794 OPS. But advanced stats hated Freeman, with him just logging 1.0 fWAR, and there's talk that Freeman's offensive stats will peak around where they did last year. What gives?

Let's tackle these issues one at a time. Freeman's low fWAR is due in part to UZR's absolute hatred of him. His UZR was -12.6 on the year, more than halving his value. Braves fans, of course, spit venom at this notion, claiming that Freeman is a magnificent fielder (because that's what Chip Caray and Joe Simpson tell them every night). DRS rated him as neutral, which I think is a more apt valuation of his defense. Tangotiger did a fantastic study on first base defense, comparing Freeman to Carlos Pena, and came to the conclusion that Freeman has very few opportunities to actually make a play, and the opportunities he had were much easier than other first basemen in the league. The link is definitely worth a read.

Now, to the other elephant in the room: Freeman's offense. People point their finger at Freeman's stellar minor league stats, and expect that performance in the majors. Well, look at his MLEs according to THT for his final three seasons in the minors. 

2008: .278/.326/.470, .343 wOBA
2009: .250/.313/.370, .304 wOBA
2010: .277/.332/.465, .344 wOBA

His MLEs for the next six years peak with a .356 wOBA. Last season, he was at .345. That's not much of an improvement. The metrics do not like Freeman's overall future projection, because despite his lack of strikeouts, he possesses below average power for a first baseman (his .166 ISO ranked 18th among 24 qualified first basemen).

You know what I think a good comp for Freeman would be? Braves-era Fred McGriff. McGriff was electric over his first year and a half in Atlanta, but fell to the .355-.365 wOBA level before departing. There is nothing wrong with having Fred McGriff as a first baseman. But Fred McGriff isn't exactly an elite player, and expectations for Freeman are probably going to be set too high going into 2012. I'd settle for 20 homers and an .800 OPS. Anything more is a bonus. 

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