Johan Camargo‘s Shocking Season
Camargo started at shortstop Friday night and singled once in three trips to the plate. His average actually dropped a tad to .327 in the process. That’s how’s Camargo’s surprising rookie campaign has gone to this point. Over 40 games, the switch-hitter has on-based .355 due to just a 4.5% walk rate but has shown new-found pop to keep his slugging a shade under .500. His numbers are remarkably similar to his Gwinnett metrics this season, though with a higher strikeout percentage. He’s also benefitted from a .410 BABIP. Rather than address the chances his production remains stellar – that’s not the purpose of this column – it’s worth noting that we started to see some changes from Camargo last year (his ISO went up nearly 40 points) and at the age of 23-years-old, it’s not unheard of to add muscle. To that possibility, people I’ve spoken to point out he that looks bigger and stronger than ever before. If the BABIP does fall – and I predict that it will – Camargo still could turn into a nice piece that belongs on a major league roster and maybe not all that glitters is gold, but in Camargo’s case, some of it might just be.
The Starting Rotation Is Close to Something
Tonight, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the Braves. With a good game, he could push his fWAR over 1.0 for the season. Right now, the Braves still do not have a 1-win starter and only Jim Johnson has crossed that plateau as a pitcher for the Braves. Garcia is sitting at 0.9, slightly ahead of both Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb at 0.7. R.A. Dickey, whose recent success has been a big factor in the Braves looking better of late, has upped his season total to 0.6. To put that in another way, many people laughed at the Padres for starting Jhoulys Chacin on opening day – a guy the Braves gave away for a rookie-level lefty project last season. Chacin currently has a 1.2 fWAR. Granted, WAR is not the end-all, be-all of numbers, but it’s a pretty damning reality of the state of the Braves’ rotation.
One surprising thing about the Braves this year has come from the production behind the plate. While Tyler Flowers impressed in limited action last year, not a lot of people felt he would repeat the effort this season considering mediocre career numbers. Hardly anyone thought Kurt Suzuki would add much with the bat, either. The results so far speak for themselves. Of 30 major league teams, only the Giants, Dodgers, Tigers, and Astros have a higher fWAR from their catchers than Atlanta’s 2.3. The Braves rank third in catcher batting average, second in OBP, and ninth in slugging. The .352 wOBA ranks fourth while the 115 wRC+ is good for fifth. Atlanta has been blessed with tremendous catcher production over the years. Since 2000, they’ve twice reached 6 fWAR from the backstop position. While that is far too high of a goal right now, this year’s unit has a shot for a 4 fWAR season – which would be the seventh such season since 2000 by Atlanta’s catchers. Not too shabby for a combined $4.5 million in base salary.
The Other Freeman
I still don’t know what to think of Sam Freeman. In a way, I like him more now after his ERA has been rising than I did before. And yes, this is a strange time to bring up Freeman after giving up three runs against the Nationals before the break and surrendering a home run by Paul Goldschmidt yesterday to blow a lead. Is Freeman a shutdown reliever? No. But can he be a useful arm? His 57.5% groundball rate, 3.80 xFIP, 3.81 SIERA suggests that he can. The problem is that those numbers might be soft. Throughout his career, he’s carried reverse splits in parts of six major league seasons. Against righties, he’s been a bit more useful with a .221/.323/.300 slash and a 20% strikeout rate. On the other hand, lefties have handled him with a .261/.377/.390 slash while striking out 24% of the time. This year, he’s been effective in a LOOGY role with a .212/.281/.288 slash against lefties and a 30% strikeout rate. It’s righties he can’t get out (.397 opposing OBP). Is small sample size the reason for this? My gut says yeah, but relievers are a strange breed. Their numbers can fluctuate one way or the other. Until Freeman proves his career rate is more accurate and his left-hand split climbs, you have to relegate him to LOOGY time. However…it might already be doing that. Since June 1, the last 35 lefties he’s faced have as many hits as they do strikeouts – ten. His righty split isn’t all that good either (.275/.370/.350, 46 batters faced). I hear that A.J. Minter guy is coming along, though…
Snitker: The Non-Manager
One of the most unnerving things about Brian Snitker is how the game manages him, not the other way around. A questionable bullpen that has allowed the third most runs-per-game would likely prompt a manager to make a lot of bullpen moves. That’s compounded by a rotation that often struggles to avoid big innings. However, Snitker has gone to the pen 286 times – about the league average. That’s not in itself a terrible thing – you don’t want to burn out your relievers, after all. But under Snitker, Atlanta really plays up bullpen roles over strategy. Get six innings out of your starter and then follow the flow chart. Are you losing? Go with your young and unproven arms for one-to-two innings a piece. Are you winning? Go to Jose Ramirez in the seventh, Arodys Vizcaino in the eighth, and Jim Johnson in the ninth? Tied and on the road? Jason Motte/Ian Krol in the seventh followed by Ramirez and Vizcaino. Wait until you have the lead for Jim Johnson. You can bet he’s lost without Vizcaino and Motte right now. There’s little-to-no strategy involved here and the numbers point to that. Atlanta relievers are tied for the third fewest outings with runners on base. That means they often come in with the bases empty – typically to start a frame. They’ve thrown the second-fewest multiple-inning outings (1.1 ING and above) and are a bit below-the-NL average in outings of fewer than three outs (i.e. specialists). They also have the second-smallest average outs-per-game. Those numbers suggest that Snitker expects his relievers to be one-inning guys in assigned roles. Good managers make decisions based on the needs of the game. Snitker manages like he’s still in the minor leagues. Give your starters innings and reach a pitch count. Give your relievers an inning and go to the next. There’s little thinking involved and the Braves have suffered as a result.
|Jeff Morris – Follow on Twitter|
Ronald Acuna posted a .895 OPS at Double-A. That’s not just outstanding, but enough to convince the Atlanta Braves to promote him to Triple-A. He’s only 19 years-old and that won’t change until a week before Christmas. He’ll have over 30 games in the International League before the end of the season – should he not get promoted before that. It’s rare enough to be in your Age-19 season in the International League and that alone is an accomplishment. Last year’s only teenage rookie position player was Acuna’s new teammate, Ozzie Albies. But what would happen if Acuna not only stayed in the IL as a teenager but produced at a similar clip as his pre-AAA days? For starters, let’s add some context using one of the game’s best players – and the MLB.com twitter account’s favorite player – Bryce Harper. Over a 21-game run in 2012 as a 19-year-old, the man with the hair hit just .243/.325/.365. It’s difficult to find teenagers who received at least a 30-game attempt in the International League, let alone find successful ones. The last one to post an OPS over .800 as a teenager in the International League – brace yourself, friends – was Melvin Upton Jr. Back in 2004, the 19-year-old hit .311/.411/.519. By the way, when our old buddy was doing that, Acuna was seven.
Cuban Imports Raking – When Healthy
The Dominican Summer League Braves have struggled this season with one of the weaker pitching staffs and a just as weak offensive club averaging 4.31 runs per game in a league in which teams average 4.95 per. They are not being helped by the absence of Juan Carlos Negret, who hasn’t played since June 30. I am not sure for the reason, but Negret was hitting a robust .306/.451/.528 over 19 games with 11 extra-base hits and eight steals before disappearing. Recent addition and fellow Cuban-born outfielder, Henry Quintero, could help fill the void. Over his first three games, Quintero went 4-for-8 with three doubles and a triple. Unfortunately, he left that third game after being hit by a pitch to lead off the first and hasn’t played in the team’s last three games. With the DSL offense slumping, it would be big for them to get either one of these Cuban imports back.
Danville’s Pitching Staff Holding Up
With most of last year’s top picks already in Rome and this year’s top two drafted arms in the GCL, the Danville pitching staff could have been in line for a bad season. So far, it’s held up to post the second-best ERA in the Appalachian League and its 4.05 ERA is nearly 60-points below the league-average. It hasn’t been all good as the shoddy defense has led to 27 unearned runs through 22 games. Still, Danville has looked pretty decent despite the lack of star power. Kyle Muller is the currently ranked prospect with the D-Braves, placing 16th in our recent Midseason Top 50. He’s K’d 26 in 23 innings while walking ten over five starts.