Well, I had hoped to get this series finished before the end of the playoffs. Apparently, small goals like that are a bit too much. Hopefully, after the last few weeks I’ve had, I can schedule some writing as we transition into November so that I am getting back to a regular gig. With that in mind, let’s get back on these player reviews before more of these players get traded or released.
*Ages reflect the player’s age on opening day, 2017
Ian Krol, LHP, 25 years-old
2016 Review: Krol looked lost in spring training and wasn’t all that impressive to begin the year at Gwinnett. But the fun thing about the MLB season is that it lasts six months and that gave Krol plenty of time to round into form. He arrived in the majors a week into May and gave the Braves a competent lefthander out of the pen. It was a bit of a Mike Remlinger Effect as his numbers were a bit better against right-handers than they were against the lefties (though a .381 BABIP vs. lefties could explain that). A deeper look shows a much better walk rate (5% lower) against lefthanders and a HR/9 rate that was cut in half when he had the platoon advantage. That gives me reason to believe that even if the triple slashes say otherwise, he was better against the lefties. However, the numbers against righthanders could be a sign that Krol is much more than just a LOOGY.
2017 Projection: A change that Krol has adopted over the last two years was to nearly scrape his 12-6 curveball in favor of a power slider. The pitch is much more effective against righties, but it’s quite deadly against lefties as well. In addition to developing his slider, he’s cut down on his fourseamer usage in favor of a two-seam sinker – especially against right-handed batters. The latter replaced his changeup, which was a pitch meant to keep righties off balanced, but it never flashed much plus potential. Now, with better repertoire, he is able to induce a slew of soft grounders that turn into easy outs. Krol’s success was not smoke-and-mirrors. Rather, it was progression, development, and execution. Provided that continues into 2017, he’s got a great chance to pair with a hopefully healthy Paco Rodriguez to give the Braves a duo of difficult southpaws for the opposition to deal with.
Blake Lalli, 33 years-old, C/1B/Emergency Pitcher
2016 Review: Lalli began his second decade in professional baseball by joining the Braves organization. The former Cubs, A’s, Brewers, and Diamondbacks farmhand did what he always does – play a little catcher, play some first, not embarrass himself at the plate, and pitch when need be. In fact, Lalli pitched three times for Gwinnett this year and that’s not even a career high in pitching appearances. He’s been used on the mound in all but three of his professional seasons and has pitched 23 times in total. And you thought the whole Jeff Francoeur on the mound thing was cute.
2017 Projection: Re-signed to a minor league deal, Lalli is “just a guy.” He’s hit double digit homeruns just twice in his career and long ago shed his appeal as a hitting option behind the plate. He received a cameo for a bad Braves team and went just 2-for-13 with a double. That extra base hit was the first of his major league career (all 32 games of it). The Braves like him enough to keep him around, which means he’s likely a good clubhouse guy. All in all, if the Braves are using Lalli for more than a few days in 2017, there are some depth issues that need to be dealt with.
Nick Markakis, RF, 32 years-old
2016 Review: There was both good and bad to “Neck’s” 2016 campaign. On one hand, the ISO (.129) was a four-year high while his walk rate, which climbed to double digits in 2015, sustained through a second campaign. On the other hand, he was less productive despite hitting ten more homeruns. It wasn’t a colossal fall, but his wOBA and wRC+ both declined. Now, a .300 BABIP didn’t help and that’s 16 points less than his career, but it’s worth mentioning that his 2015 BABIP of .338 was probably a bit too high as well. Somewhere in the middle, the BABIP normalizes and you get the Braves version of Markakis who has slashed .282/.358/.386 as a Brave.
2017 Projection: Two things to keep in mind regarding the slash I just gave you. The OBP matches his nine-year run as an Oriole and is an above-average mark. The other thing that stands out becomes clear when you compare Markakis’s final four years with the Orioles against his first two seasons as a Brave. His slash for those years was .281/.345/.399. Expecting much more improvement in regards to Markakis seems like a stretch. Yes, his neck seems better and his hard-hit rate improved noticeably (+7%) while his groundball rate plummeted back toward (and under) his career average after ballooning to 52% last year. He continues to show a great understanding of the strikezone and rarely whiffs. That leaves us with this version of Markakis, who is due $22 million over the next two years. He’s a fine complimentary player who won’t embarrass you, but he also won’t make you much better. It’s no surprise that the Braves are entertaining the idea of trading Markakis as they look toward improving in 2017.
Hopefully, I’ll be back this weekend with another set. Thanks for reading and share liberally.