Braves at the Break

Figure I’d drop in a quick baseball post. The Braves are off again today and will resume action Friday night against the seafaring marauders of Pittsburgh.

  • Los Bravos are currently 2 back of the Metropolitans (something about writing at 1:16 AM makes one not want to use actual names, I guess). As a fun exercise I decided to see how far back they were at this point in every season after the strike. The results, frankly, aren’t terribly interesting. From 1995 through 2000, not only were they in first at the All-Star Break, in many cases they were already running away with the division. In 1998, they were 12.5 up at the break an the lead never went below 11 games. They steamrolled through the Cubs in the NLDS only to run into the Kevin Brown, Ken Caminiti, Jim “F@#%^&@#%@#” Leyritz and the rest of the Padres in the NLCS.
    Back to my original point, outside of this year the Braves have found themselves out of first 4 times since 1994: 2001 (1 back), 2004 (1 back), 2005 (2.5 back), and 2006 (13(!) back). So there’s not really a lot to go on there.
  • Unsurprisingly, Chipper Jones has been having the best year at the plate for the Braves when he’s in. He’s sport a healthy 1.011 OPS and .329 batting averages. Among year-to-date qualifiers, this puts him at 4th best in baseball:
    Top 10 Hitters by OPS
    1. Barry Bonds (1.101, SF)
    2. Alex Rodriguez (1.078, NYY)
    3. Magglio Ordonez (1.050, DET)
    4. Chipper Jones (1.011, ATL)
    5. Carols Pena (1.004, TAM)
    6. Prince Fielder (.996, MIL)
    7. David Ortiz (.990, BOS)
    8. Chase Utley (.972, PHI)
    9. Gary Sheffield (.970, DET)
    10. Miguel Cabrera (.969, FLA)
  • As most of you know, Andruw Jones is not having a good year in any sense of the word. At the break, he’s hitting .211 with a .720 OPS, and that’s with the help of a good 3-3 game against San Diego Sunday night. That said, since June 26 he’s hit 4 homers and gone 14-48 at the plate (.292 average) with a .968 OPS. Hopefully this is a good sign he’ll get out of his funk and not a temporary burst of confidence. True to his style, he’s appeared in every game this year and I would guess the 4 days off will help him rest up.
  • Speaking of things that needed 4 days of rest, let’s talk about the bullpen. 6 relievers already have more than 30 appearances, with Tyler Yates leading the pack at 42, including 5 straight games before taking the day off Sunday. In terms of effectives, Peter Moylan probably leads the pack with Rafeal Soriano close behind. (Mike Gonzalez was having a great year before he got hurt, though.)
    However, Bob Wickman scares me. I read an article at the beginning of the year calling him one of the most overrated closers in baseball. Now I’m starting to believe it. Submitted for your approval, here’s some stats from this year and last:
    With Cleveland: 15 saves, 28 IP, 13 ER, 17 K, 11 BB (1.54 K/BB, 1.429 WHIP)
    With Atlanta: 18 saves, 26 IP, 7 ER, 25 K, 2 BB (12.5 K/BB, 1 WHIP)
    2007: 16 saves, 30 IP, 16 ER, 25 K, 13 BB (1.92 K/BB, 1.633 WHIP)
    So in these 3 half seasons, his walk totals are particularly alarming for someone who should not be allowing a lot of baserunners. A low WHIP ((walks+hits)/innings pitched) is also really important for a closer, and 1.633 is not low. His strikeout totals are also alarmingly low for a closer. In fact, of the the Braves relievers with 30 or more appearances, only Chad Paronto has less strikeouts. All this only appears good in relation to our situation before we traded for Wickman last year.
    All in all, if he stops allowing baserunners and gets back to the form he had in the second half last year we should be fine. Otherwise, count me on the Rafael Soriano bandwagon.
  • So far, in 2 innings pitched, Joey Divine has allowed exactly zero grand slams! Let’s hope he keeps it up.
  • Hudson and Smoltz have pitched pretty well this year. Smoltz’s shoulder, therefore, is a huge cause for concern. If he has to sit a month to heal the damn thing that’s fine by me. We’ll need it more in August and September. We desperately need a 3rd/4th reliable starter, but the market for them is bone dry.
  • We seem to have solved our productivity issues at first base and left field. Willie Harris leads the team in on-base percentage (.419) and Saltalamacchia is light years ahead of Scott Thorman. Salty’s still learning the ropes defensively (2 errors in 10 games) but he’s just so much better offensively that I don’t really care.
  • Someday, I might understand why Chris Woodward has a job. Maybe.

Anyway, I’m tired. As for my overall thoughts, I rate our chances as decent. I think a good goal is to be within 2 games come August 7, when we go to New York for a 3-game series with the Mets, one of 3 remaining series with them for the rest of the year.

College football note: The excellent Sunday Morning Quarterback has an well-reasoned preview of Georgia Tech. You really should check it out – I’m a GT fan and I doubt I could write that in-depth of a preview on Tech.