June 2007

Deal or no deal?

The Mets tried their best to give the division away this June. Unfortunately, there were no takers. Atlanta scuffled for the second straight June, while the Phillies made strides but still had to overcome their slow April start.

I think the National League East could prove to be one of the tightest division races in all of baseball. Come to think of it, all of the NL races could be fun to watch this September. No team has really run away with things to this point.

Just one road-trip separates the Braves from the season’s second half, when they will hope to have things solidified and add the final pieces via trade for the stretch run. That is assuming there is a trade, which almost everyone feels is more of a question of when than if.

Despite some clubhouse disagreements that usually never find their way into the mainstream media coverage, the Braves have other things to concern themselves with. Those post-game rants have been swept under the carpet with the promise that all is forgiven… of course, that being that the team wins. Losing has a way of getting to everyone in some way.

The puzzling slump of Andruw Jones gets the attention of every group of writers, broadcasters and other media types. There aren’t any answers to what exactly is to blame for this slump that has seemingly stretched over the first three months of the season. Jones is on track to have one of the worst seasons ever by a superstar player heading into a contract season in the prime of his career.

With their clean-up hitter batting .199 with 12 homers and 46 RBI, Atlanta has had to rely on a different cast of characters. Matt Diaz and Willie Harris have formed a formidable platoon in left-field. The two have combined to hit .356 overall, with combined totals of five homers, 29 RBI and 12 steals.

How about the exciting pair of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Yunel Escobar? Both made the jump from Mississippi and both have made contributions to the club. Saltalamacchia’s potential and success thus far convinced Atlanta to ship Brayan Pena back to Triple-A Richmond. Meanwhile, Escobar filled in capably for Chipper Jones while he was on the DL earlier in the month.

Other clubs are going to note the talents of both Escobar and Saltalamacchia and ask for them in return for Atlanta’s needs at the deadline. So then we have the age old question, "Trade the future for today, or not?"

John Schuerholz has certainly made some great deals to bring over key players by using the rich farm system. Remember the trio of Melvin Nieves, Vince Moore and Donnie Elliot going to San Diego for Fred McGriff? How about another trio that featured Chuck Thomas, Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer heading to Oakland for Tim Hudson? Even sending Nick Green to Tampa Bay for Jorge Sosa paid dividends in 2005.

There are a few pitchers that Atlanta might like to have back in mix at the back of the rotation. Adam Wainwright springs to mind. The bottom line is that Atlanta always seems to get top value for its prospects, even if they never blossom into full-blown stars.

So, I’ll leave you with a question. Should the Braves dip into the farm and trade a Saltalamacchia or an Escobar and others for a front-line starter or veteran slugger?

Please discuss, comment and debate. You can even argue if you like!

Till Next Time

Grant M-C

Getting the swing of things…

With all the concern about the back of the Braves rotation, there has not been much attention paid to the fact that Atlanta hitters are still trying to get in the groove, especially with Chipper Jones having been out of the lineup for a stretch of 19 games.

The Braves come into to the first of a three against the Indians having scored the fourth most runs of any team in the National League. They have even outscored the mighty Mets offense by a 302-297 mark. You would think that run-scoring is not the problem. But I found some rather interesting quirks about the Braves offensive attack that bears deeper look.

The 1-2 spot tandem of Edgar Renteria and Kelly Johnson have combined to score 88 of those 302 runs… that’s nearly a third for those keeping score at home. Johnson is on pace to score 114 runs this season and Renteria is on track for 110. Outstanding production from the middle infielders who set the table for Atlanta’s big sticks.

Using "on-pace" statistics is a far from 100% accurate look into the projected future of a player. It is a relative term. It does not take into account the fact that as players get hot or start a streak where production is far and away above the norm. Some hitters find themselves heating up with the weather, some explode out of the gate and still others do their best work down the stretch. I’ll get to all of this as we continue.

What it does show is the numbers that are in store if the current trend stretches on throughout the rest of the season. Take it for what it’s worth, the trend I’m about to point out is one that will need to improve as the season wears on. Now that I’ve placed a very thorough disclaimer, let’s continue.

Run scoring for several of the Braves middle of the order hitters is not on pace to match the levels reached in 2006 (in the case of Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann) or year in and year out (in the case of Andruw Jones).

With just 30 runs scored through his first 67 games, Francoeuer is on-pace for a 74 run season, coming on the heels of an 83 total in 2006. McCann is experiencing the most marked drop-off. Yes, as a catcher he will play less games than Francoeur or Andruw, but in 130 games last season, McCann scored 61 times. Having crossed the plate just 18 times through his first 55 contests of 2007, McCann is on-pace to score just 47 times.

Andruw has struggled mightely, but has still managed to keep himself "on-pace" for a 100+ RBI season. His run-scoring pace is also down considerably from last season, and his year-in-year-out norm. Andruw routinely scored between 90 and 100 runs a year. With only 30 through 66 games this year, he is "on-pace" for just 73. You can probably attribute a handful of the shortage to the fact McCann is on pace for just a total somewhere just north of 70, one year after driving in 93.

This may seem a bit out there, and bordering on having nothing better to do than crunch numbers on a Friday afternoon, but two of the Braves most productive players have combined to out-score Kelly Johnson (a player who was not even guaranteed a starting job this spring) by a mere three runs, 48-45. It’s at least a little distressing. 

It’s not that Francoeur or McCann are not doing their job by getting on base. The hitters that follow, the 7-8-9 spots in the Braves order have not come through this season. No one expects much out of the pitchers hitting in that ninth slot.

Craig Wilson was just a shell of the player he was for Pittsburgh, earning a quick release on May 17. That has left Scott Thorman to assume everyday duties at first base. In 24 games since Wilson’s release however, Thorman has hit just .171 with a pair of homers and six runs batted in.

The recent absence of Chipper Jones for nearly three weeks forced the Braves to shift their entire lineup. Renteria dropped down to routinely bat third, and the trio of Pete Orr, Chris Woodward and Yunel Escobar played the team’s games at third base from May 24 through June 14. During Chipper’s stint on the DL, Orr, Woodward and Escobar drove home four runs. That total does not exactly set the world on fire.

Having Chipper back is definitely going to pay dividends, but the Braves may take a look at the trade market to see what kind of bats are available. I won’t be venturing into fantasy baseball mode and throw out a bunch of names that may or may not be made available. We’ll all have to see what happens, when/if it happens. A little more balance in the offense would certainly go a long way.

Till next time,

G-Mc

What’s in a draft?

With the 2007 Major Leauge Baseball draft coming up in mere days (June 6-8), I figured now would be the time to take a look back at the history of Braves draft picks. Some went on to star for the Braves or other Major League clubs, while others highlight a list of not quite’s, never were’s and draft busts.

The Atlanta Braves have been one of the most successful teams in drafting, signing and developing talent over the past two decades. Chipper Jones may be the crown jewel of the organization’s top picks, coming from the lean years of the late 80s.

There is no science to picking a player who will become star. Potential, scouting reports and positional weakness of a club all play a part on what player is taken in a given year’s draft. Call in the difference between Chipper Jones and Pat Rocket if you like, but without any further delay, here’s a look back at the draft history of the Atlanta Braves.

If the player made it to the Majors (Years Played) follows. Also listed are notable players who were drafted and their years in the Major Leagues. I’ve even included a few interesting names who did not sign, you’ll see the ever infamous *asterisks* on their names:

1966

First pick: Al Santorini, P (1968-73)

Notables: *Tom Seaver, P (1967-86)*

1967

First pick – Andrew Finlay, OF

Notables: Ralph Garr, OF (1968-80), Dusty Baker, OF (1968-86)

1968

First pick: Curtis Moore, OF

1969

First pick: Gene Holbert, C

Notables: Mickey Rivers, OF (1970-84)

1970

First pick: Ron Broaddus, P

Notables: Rowland Office, OF

1971

First pick: Taylor Duncan, SS (1977-78)

Notables: Biff Pocoroba, OF (1975-84)

1972

First pick: Preston Hanna, P (1975-82)

1973

First pick: Pat Rockett, SS (1976-78)

Notables: Terry Harper, P-OF, (1980-87)

1974

First pick: Dale Murphy, C (1976-93)

Notables: Rick Camp (1977-86)

1975

First pick: Donald Young, C

Notables: Glenn Hubbard, 2B (1978-1989)

1976

First pick: Ken Smith, 3B (1981-83)

Notables: Bruce Benedict, C (1978-89)

1977

First pick: Tim Cole, P

Notables: Albert Hall, OF (1981-89)

1978

First pick: Bob Horner, 3B (1978-88)

Notables: Steve Bedrosian, P (1981-95), Gerald Perry, OF (1983-1995)

1979

First pick: Brad Komminsk, OF-1B (1983-91)

Notables: Brett Butler, OF (1981-97), Milt Thompson, OF (1981-1992)

1980

First pick: Ken Dayley, P (1982-93)

1981

First pick: Jay Roberts, OF-P

1982

First pick: Duane Ward, P (1986-95)

Notables: Zane Smith, P (1984-96)

1983

First pick: Marty Clary, P (1987-90)

Notables: Ron Gant, SS (1987-2003), *Jay Buhner, OF (1987-2001)*, Mark Lemke, 2B (1988-98)

1984

First pick: Drew Denson, 1B-OF (1989-93)

Notables: Tom Glavine, P (1987-Now)

1985

First pick: Tommy Greene, P (1989-97)

Notables: David Justice, 1B (1989-2002)

1986

First pick: Kent Mercker, P (1989-2006)

Notables: *Steve Finley, OF (1989-Now)*, *Tim Salmon, OF (1992-2006)*

1987

Top pick: Derek Lilliquist, P (1989-96)

Notables: Mike Stanton, P (1989-Now), Brian R. Hunter, 1B (1991-2000)

1988

First pick: Steve Avery, P (1990-2003)

Notables: Mark Wohlers, P (1991-2002)

1989

First pick: Tyler Houston, C (1996-2003)

Notables: Ryan Klesko, 1B (1992-Now)

1990

First pick: Chipper Jones, SS (1993-Now)

Notables: Tony Graffanino, SS (1996-Now)

1991

First pick: Mike Kelly, OF (1994-99)

Notables: Jason Schmidt, P (1995-Now)

1992

First pick: Jamie Arnold, P (1999-2000)

Notables: *Jose Cruz Jr., OF (1997-Now)*

1993

First pick: Andre King, OF

Notables: Kevin Millwood, P (1997-Now), Jermaine Dye, OF (1996-Now), John Rocker, P (1998-2003)

1994

First pick: Jacob Shumate, P

Notables: Wes Helms, SS (1999-Now)

1995

First pick: *Chad Hutchinson, P (2001)*

1996

First pick: A.J. Zapp, 1B

Notables: Jason Marquis, P (2000-Now), Mark Derosa, 3B (1998-Now), Marcus Giles, 2B (2001-Now)

1997

First pick: Troy Cameron, SS

Notables: Horacio Ramirez, P (2003-Now)

1998

First pick: Matt Belisle, P (2003-Now)

Notables: Ryan Langerhans, OF (2002-Now)

1999

First pick: Matt Butler, P

Notables: Nick Green, 2B (2004-06)

2000

First pick: Adam Wainwright, P (2005-Now)

Notables: Scott Thorman, 1B (2006-Now), Kelly Johnson, SS, Adam LaRoche, 1B (2004-Now), Blaine Boyer, P (2005-Now)

2001

First Pick: Macay McBride, P (2005-Now)

Notables: Kyle Davies, P (2005-Now), Anthony Lerew, P (2005-Now)

2002

First Pick: Jeff Francoeur, OF (2005-Now)

Notables: Brian McCann, C (2005-Now), Chuck James, P (2005-Now)

2003

First Pick: Luis Atilano, P

Notables: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (2007)

2004

First Pick: Eric Campbell, 3B

2005

First Pick: Joey Devine, P (2005-Now)

Notables: Yunel Escobar, SS (2007)

2006

First Pick: John Johnson, OF

So who will it be in 2007? The answers will be in this week. It may take years before the Braves see any of the players who will join the organization from this year’s player draft. However, the recent trend of Francoeur, McCann and even Devine has shown that the Braves are not afraid to plug and play their up and coming talent. Time, as always, will tell.

Till Next time,

G-Mc

A steadily underrated performer…

Florida – 3 —- Cleveland – 2 FINAL (11 Innings)

I don’t remember what exactly I was doing at 21 years old, but it didn’t have anything to do with collecting game winning hits in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 of the World Series. Edgar Renteria knows something about that, though.

It’s the ultimate, "Welcome to the big time, kid" moment. Despite putting together a career that has him on track to crack the vaunted 3,000 hit plateau around age 38, Renteria has toiled in relative obscurity since lining that single up the middle on a late October night in 1997.

Jimmy Leyland, on a visit to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex as first year Tigers manager last spring, cracked a big smile and stopped his season outlook talk with reporters in mid-sentence upon sighting the rookie shortstop of his 1997 Florida Marlins club.

“Excuse me guys, this kid got a big hit for me one time,” joked Leyland as he walked over to embrace Renteria, who had become a seasoned veteran of 11-years (at the time).

His teams know what he can do. Maybe some of that October magic rubbed off that day, as Leyland went on to pilot a Tigers team that was supposed be somewhere in the midst of a rebuilding process to their first World Series appearance since 1984.

Think about the names that have been trumpeted during Renteria’s career as the premier shortstops in the game. There was the trinity of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra. Then Miguel Tejada came along, winning an MVP award himself. Renteria, 31, broke in less than a year after Ozzie Smith played his last game, and was around for Cal Ripken’s final years, albeit at third base.

These days, Renteria has a hard time asserting himself as the premier shorstop in the National League East. Most experts have been singing the praises of the New York’s Jose Reyes, Florida’s Hanley Ramirez and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins. Conspicuous in his absence in the discussion is Renteria.

Perhaps there is still a lingering stigma from Renteria’s free agent contract with Boston two season’s ago. Unfortunately, he went to a city that is ready to crown new heroes as soon as they sign on the dotted line. They expect results, and why not? Committing 30 errors certainly didn’t champion the cause of "wait and see." Renteria is a two-time gold glove defender, so one could see that season as a complete anomoly in the scope of his 12-year career.

Atlanta has been pleased to add a quality bat that has been post-season tested to the top of the order when Rafael Furcal signed with the Dodgers. While his 40-steal days may be behind him, Renteria has been a key component of the Braves formula since his arrival. And it doesn’t take a 4-hit game in a 9-3 comeback win over the Central-leading Brewers to tell me that.

There’s no need to rattle of stats that will point to any of these four players as being "worse" than the next, because Renteria and Rollins, 28, are both different types of players than Reyes and/or Ramirez. If anything, I’d like to show that Renteria deserves his mention when you are talking about the NL East’s great shortstops. Really, the NL’s great shortstops.

Here is a closer look at the 2007 NL East shorstops (sans Felipe Lopez):

Player                 

AVG

R

H

HR

RBI

SB

OBP

SLG

Hanley Ramirez

.314

46

66

7

14

16

.386

.500

Edgar Renteria

.323

37

67

7

27

3

.386

.514

Jose Reyes

.310

42

67

2

25

29

.394

.468

Jimmy Rollins

.273

43

63

9

32

10

.321

.502

All statistics through games of May 31, 2007

There is no doubt about the excitement that Reyes and Ramirez, both 23-years old, bring to the top of the order for their respective clubs. Both are having great years again in 2007, as you can easily see. Obviously, the best is more than likely yet to come from these exciting young shortstops.

The trio of Ramirez, Reyes and Rollins (though Philadelphia has batted him 3rd as well) all do most of their work in the lead-off spot for their respective teams, while Renteria hits second ordinarily. Table-setter would be a good word to describe all four. Take this breakdown of productivity a step further:

Player

Hit Safely

Multi-hit games

Hanley Ramirez

40 of 51 games

19

Edgar Renteria

40 of 50 games

20

Jose Reyes

41 of 51 games

18

Jimmy Rollins

38 of 53 games

21

All statistics through games of May 31, 2007

All four have contributed much to their respective causes. Top of the order production is key for any lineup to pile up victories. Here’s a look at each team’s record when their shortstop scores a run, and when he deoes not score:

Player

W/ Run

W/O Run

Actual Record

Hanley Ramirez

17-13

9-15

26-28

Edgar Renteria

19-8

11-15

30-23

Jose Reyes

25-5

9-13

34-18

Jimmy Rollins

20-11

6-16

26-27

All statistics through games of May 31, 2007

Perhaps the most telling facet of Renteria’s career has been the way in which he has piled up hits in just 12 seasons. The Atlanta shortstop has 1,837 base knocks heading into today’s series opener in Chicago, and is on pace for 213 this season. Couple that with his season average of 161 hits per season, and Renteria looks to be on track for 3,000 hits somewhere around the 2013 season. That assumes that he stays healthy and productive… which is no sure thing, but nonetheless food for thought.

FYI: The youngest player to 3,000 was Ty Cobb. He collected his 3000th hit on August 19, 1921 at the tender age of 34.

That’s all for now, but the next time somebody talks about the best shortstop in the NL East – or the NL for that matter – don’t let them go without hearing the case for Edgar Renteria.

Till next time,

G-Mc