Braves Focus Shifts to Defense, Winning during Q&A

Braves Focus Shifts to Defense, Winning during Q&A

In a recent Q&A with Braves A-List Members at SunTrust Park, Alex Anthopoulos expanded on his vision for Atlanta moving forward. Most of this information comes courtesy of @SlmSolo (Stacy), who was at the session. I want to thank her for allowing me to use her tweets as inspiration for this post and I encourage you to follow her on Twitter. The pic above was taken by her as well.

Defense

One of the interesting takeaways is a bit more focus on defense. During the session, Anthopoulos mentioned that the defense needed to be addressed to help the team’s pitchers, specifically Julio Teheran and the youngsters coming up. This is not an unusual idea, but was defense truly a problem for the 2018 Braves?

The numbers do suggest that it was. Only three other teams finished with a worse DRS than the Braves while only two had a worse rPM. This was despite having Ender Inciarte patrolling center field on his way to another Gold Glove. They also had the best pitch framer in baseball and while not a gifted pitch framer himself, Kurt Suzuki posted some solid defense stats beyond that. The defense has been a problem that has followed Atlanta throughout the rebuild, though that probably shouldn’t be surprising. After all, defense was not a priority. So, what can the Braves do about their defense?

Well, the good news is that the Braves have already improved the defense at one position and should do so at another without looking elsewhere. Brandon Phillips got the ball rolling in the right direction after a number of years of substandard second basemen play, but his replacement, Ozzie Albies, could be a Gold Glover. While it’s dangerous to base anything on a short sample, Albies looked outstanding at second base during his two-month run last season. More of that, please.

Nick Markakis has played over 4,000 innings the last three years, giving us a good amount of data to say this – he’s not terrible. He’s also not good. As he is in pretty much everything, Markakis is the epitome of “meh.” He lacks the ability to get to plays out of his “zone,” but he rarely misjudges the plays he can get to. Nor will Markakis throw it away. There’s something to be said for just doing your job, but Anthopoulos isn’t that impressed. That’s okay, though. Ronald Acuna is here and he has the defensive skills to put up the kind of big defensive stats the Braves haven’t seen from their corner outfielders since Jason Heyward and Martin Prado.

Of course, the Braves would prefer to trade Matt Kemp. Twenty-six players played left field while John Coppolella was in charge. Most of them graded bad-to-okay. Kemp has looked especially horrid, accounting for -29 DRS in 1317.1 innings. With his knee and hamstring issues, there’s a good bet that Kemp won’t improve on that. Let’s just say that watching him play left field makes me miss Jonny Gomes in left field. Yuck. The Braves will try to correct that problem and if they are not able to find a taker for Kemp, they might just cut their losses.

If Anthopoulos does focus on correcting Coppolella’s disregard for defense, it would seem that regardless of what happens with Markakis, Kemp is out.

Another position many suggest change is inevitable at is third base. The most-used third baseman during Coppy’s reign was Adonis Garcia – not a suitable option defensively. Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz would seem like a capable duo of handling third base, but if the Braves look outside the organization as expected, who might fit the bill? Mike Moustakas has a history of playing a solid third base, but his defensive numbers went south somewhat last season. Todd Frazier, on the other hand, has good defensive metrics at third base over his career. He could be a fit if the money is right. That said, as Stephen brought up earlier, with such a focus on shifting, is third base defense as important as it once was?

Finally, there’s shortstop. Dansby Swanson was dinged for 20 errors last year, including 13 fielding errors. In addition, he finished with a -7 DRS. He briefly played second base during a run with Gwinnett and the Braves could explore a move of Albies to short and Swanson to second. If not, it seems like the Braves will ride-or-die with Swanson at shortstop in 2018. I can’t imagine the Braves giving up on a guy many regarded as a capable shortstop after just one season.

Ending the Rebuild

While defense was brought up more than once in Stacy’s tweets, it wasn’t the only thing of interest. Both Terry McGuirk and Anthopoulos stated that the team was shifting away from a rebuilding club to one that wants to win. However, this might not mean that the Braves are going to break the minor league system down to build an immediate winner. Anthopoulos seemed to think Josh Donaldson, a pending free agent after 2018, was not a good option.

To me, this suggests what I think we probably already knew about Anthopoulos and the Braves moving forward. For one, they don’t really have any other veterans to trade for prospects right now. The ones they do have are overpaid or don’t have a lot of trade value. Or their name is Freddie Freeman. The rebuild is effectively over.

This does not mean, though, that the Braves will trade off Mike Soroka for a bullpen improvement or send Alex Jackson to a team to get a durable #4 starter. The Braves also don’t want one-year band-aids. They want to improve the major league roster for 2018 and beyond. That might mean adding a third baseman who can get them to 2019. It might also mean getting involved in the starting pitcher market for a guy to help stabilize the rotation. I don’t really think Anthopoulos is going to gut the farm system to improve this team.

That’s not to say we won’t see trades. As another tweet from Stacy pointed out, Coppolella appears underwhelmed by this year’s free agent class.

“Rogue Employee”

The Braves and Major League Baseball agreed on one thing – the problem was John Coppolella.

According to Terry McGuirk, a “‘rogue employee’ focusing on Dominican prospects will not bring down (the) proud franchise.” This is, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, Kevin Maitan was from Venezuela. Not all baseball players from the Carribean are from the DR, Terry. But the far more reaching point is that no one in-house had any idea what was going on? Not John Hart? Not the Team President, Terry McGuirk? Nobody whose job included being Coppolella’s boss had any inkling that something amiss was going on?

Listen, I get the argument. In the business world, those at the highest perches tend to spend their time playing golf and showing up at board meetings. I understand that, but this stuff didn’t just happen. John Coppolella didn’t decide two months ago to bend the rules. According to the investigation’s finding, this began with the 2015-16 signing class. For over two years, Coppy’s bosses were in the dark?

No. Not buying it. McGuirk, Hart, and others either were intentionally ignorant or knew this information and just didn’t care. I’m not privy to what the financial statements said. Still, when more money was spent on international players than what is recorded, that’s a bit of a red flag. Maybe?

I’m happy to have Alex Anthopoulos as the Braves’ general manager. I’m not even calling for McGuirk to lose his position after the proactive efforts to push John Hart away. But let’s call a spade a spade. Either you weren’t paying attention or you didn’t care. It wasn’t one “rogue employee” who stole someone’s credit card. He had bosses he needed to answer to. When McGuirk throws Coppolella under the bus, he might as well get under with him. This was an epic failure from a number of people.

In the end, the Braves got a capable and respected general manager out of it. Further burying Coppolella won’t change that. It’s also not helping, though. The right answer is this: Mistakes were made and we are doing everything we can to make sure those mistakes aren’t repeated and the trust we lost is rebuilt. It’s the simple answer. It’s also the political answer. And I firmly do believe it’s also the truth.

Again, thanks to Stacy for her help with this post. You can follow her here and she goes over some other tidbits that I didn’t touch in this article.

11 Comments

Thomas,

What I’d like to discuss and theorize is regarding the defense. As noted, we had Ender and average or strong defense at 2B as well as the universe’s greatest pitch framers. Freeman is what he is and we won’t fault him so long as he’s hitting, and Markakis–as per usual–did no significant impact whether damaging or helping. Also agree that the plug will not be pulled on Dansby at short after just one year.

All that taken for granted and assumed no changes/declines/improvements from anyone else….how much would replacing Kemp and Adonis with at least average defenders improve the team’s defense. I know we’ve established in the past that Kemp’s defense in leftfield was other-worldly awful, but say we had another Markakis in left and another at 3B, where would that have put the Braves in comparison to the rest of the majors?

Let’s also ponder, as you have, what happens if Acuna comes in and puts up even just above average defensive stats and an average leftfielder/3B combo was brought it? How much does the team simply improve by trimming the fat, so to speak?

Well, we can do this pretty simply from a WAR standpoint. Matt Kemp posted a .328 wOBA, but his defense dragged down his value to a -0.5 fWAR. Adam DuVall (.327 wOBA, 1.8 fWAR) would be a comparable left fielder (though with roughly 200 more PA). DuVall is an average defender. Note: I’m not suggesting the Braves acquire DuVall or anyone else I might mention. They are placeholders.

This is a little more difficult at third base because Garcia wasn’t the most utilized option at third base – Camargo was. Camargo’s numbers, by the way, do compare favorably to Josh Harrison. If Camargo’s 1.2 fWAR was moved closer to Harrison’s 2.6 fWAR, that’s another win.

Nick Markakis was worth 0.9 fWAR. Say Acuna replaces him and let’s keep our expectations low. He has a Kole Calhoun-type season where he posts a .315 wOBA with slightly-above-average defense for a RF. Now, we’re looking at another win with a 2.2 fWAR player. Anything over a .315 wOBA or better defense – both reasonable expectations for Acuna – would increase that total.

Further, Ozzie Albies out-fWAR’d Phillips 1.9 to 1.6 in 250 fewer PA. I think it’s reasonable that you could add at least another win there.

So…long scheme of things…the Braves improve by roughly 5-6 games from 72 wins to at least 77.

So…a 72 to 77 win uptick could, more or less, reasonably be expected by the Braves simply being average at those positions.

While I’m not suggesting this should be how things are analyzed all the time, let’s also assume a rebound to his “good” self for Julio Teheran. Perhaps even a half-season’s worth of starts from….not Bartolo Colon. Also contributions in the back end of the bullpen from….not Jim Johnson. Basically we’re not out of the realm of possibility this is a .500 team simply by “trimming the fat” as I put it in my first reply. No?

Essentially. I know everyone craps on the roster Coppy put together last year, but if things had gone to plan – and they rarely* do– but if they had, that’s a team that could have competed for a Wild Card spot.

*by rarely, I mean never.

Right. That’s why I’m quick to defend Coppy, but only for what he did with the roster and making the trades to fuel this rebuild. Dude can still kiss my butt–unwiped–for what he did internationally, but the Braves fans still do owe him a lot of gratitude for making some of the trades that he made and absolutely stealing some prospects from other general managers. One thing’s for certain. The Braves aren’t this close to gearing towards putting together a winner if Coppy didn’t make trades like Mallex/Shae for Gohara/Burrows or Shelby Miller for Ender/Dansby and that other guy we got.

Those were some interesting quotes, for sure. It’s hard to disagree with wanting to improve the defense to help the young pitchers- however, I hope that’s not also code for we’re planning to add little-to-not offensively. At some point a bat-first type has to be added somewhere, be it in LF or 3B. No one has ever one a 0-0 game before.

That said, I’d be curious too where the Braves ranked defensively last season if you replaced Garcia and Kemp’s defensive numbers with some league average defensive stats for the year? I’d also be curious where the team ranked with a league average year defensively at SS over Dansby, WITH Kemp and Garcia’s defensive numbers? That would be an interesting piece.

For what it’s worth, Swanson’s defensive metrics weren’t all bad last year. His UZR/150 ranked 11th out of 20 qualified shortstops, though his DRS and rPM ranked near the bottom. Similar to Xander Bogaerts in that way, actually. In Swanson has posted closer to a .321 wOBA like Bogaerts, he’s probably a three-win player rather than a 0.1 player. Granted, if the metrics do “correct” next year and his positive metrics fall, that would destroy the comparison.

Bryce, that’s kinda easy to assess any number of ways. Here’s a good one. I just checked at Fangraphs and the Braves had one of the highest negative DRS in all the majors. Here’s the list of teams with DRS comparable to the Braves – Royals, Giants, Nationals, Tigers, Phillies, Mets, Blue Jays, A’s. See any similarities? The Braves had -43 DRS; Kemp had -29 DRS. Turning Kemp’s -29 into 0 DRS could turn a lot of pitchers’ bad performances into mediocre performances (a lot of singles into outs and a lot of doubles into singles). Also, Folty, Newc, and Gohara all had FIPs significantly better than their ERAs. That in and of itself tells you that our young up and coming pitchers need good defense behind them to perform at their best. Jim Johnson is a great example – he pitches sinker balls that are supposed to generate weak GBs or DPs. His FIP was almost a run and a half better than his ERA (I know he’s gone now, but the point is still valid).

Say what you want about Coppy doing ‘rouge things in The DR’ (lol)….Coppy’s shrewd trades (overall) and his ABSOLUTELY AMAZING 2015-2017 Drafts HELLA STOCKED The Braves Minor League System!

I have NO PROBLEM with forgiving Coppy for ‘going rogue’…because of how a team I’ve been rooting for since I was 10 years old (starting in 1982 with that 13-0 start at the beginning of the season) is positioned to start another long term playoff run come 2019!

I know, it’ll be tough to surpass the level of excellence that John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery started in 1991 and continued to the 2005 season with John Smoltz and Tim Hudson anchoring our rotation! However I’m confident that among the following, we’ll be able to find 5 playoff caliber starting pitchers who’ll be around for years to come:

1. Luis Gohara
2. Sean Newcomb
3. Max Fried
4. Mike Soroka
5. Kolby Allard
6. Kyle Wright
7. Joey Wentz
8. Bryce Wilson
9. Tooki Tousiant
10. Patrick Weigel

That’s a LOADED amount of starting pitching talent (not to mention that we still have Julio Teheran and Mike Folty…both who have several years of MLB experience and are only 27 years old…either of whom are capable of ‘rising up’ to a potential TOR-type pitcher).

I hope that our new GM does not use our seemingly surplus of young pitching talent to acquire quick fixes. Coppy had enough vision/patience to understand that acquiring a plethora of young talent gives a team HELLA CHEAP OPTIONS to build a long term playoff contender!

The Braves traded away Jim Johnson’s $4.5 mil 2018 contract to The Angels (along with the last remaining $1.2 mil we left to sign any International Market players in this 2017-2018 signing period) for some lefty Minor League batting practice bullpen pitcher with an ERA over 5.5 in 2017.

I could care less about what we got in return…getting rid of Johnson’s $4.5 mil contract for 2018 was the goal here. That unexpected fortune of good luck…can go towards softening the blow of whatever The Braves have to eat of either Markakis’ and/or Kemp’s contract when we trade them!

Like I’ve stated before, the goal should be giving The Young Prospects The 2018 Season to develop/prosper….as well as ridding the payroll of Markakis and Kemp before The 2018 Offseason Free Agency begins!

I’d rather see them put that money toward a dependable, veteran bullpen addition. I’d love to see Addison Reed in a Braves uniform, but there’s a lot of players out there that would fit the bill. Considering the stated goal is to help the young pitchers with a better defensive club next season, it’d also make sense to help their confidence by trying to preserve a few of their wins for them.

On a side note, I’m not a fan of the move Kemp at all costs idea. If they can do it while eating less than half of his contract, that’s awesome. Any more than that, you may as well hold him and hope for a rebound of sorts. If he doesn’t, you cut him next off-season. The money’s the same either way.

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