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Pastornicky Took One For The Team

My first thought after hearing Braves Tyler Pastornicky had been sent down was, “I hope his terrible beginning doesn’t define the rest of his career.” It would be unfortunate considering few expected the 22-year old to do much more than hold the fort, if that, as a rookie in Atlanta. And even though the results (-0.9 WAR) in 45 games ranked Pastornicky as the lowest performing shortstop in baseball, it does not mean he can’t rebound to have a long career at the big league level in some capacity. After all, Pastornicky opening the season as the starting shortstop was more a matter of timing than his truly being ready to contribute from the start.

Yesterday, Ben Duronio, resident expert on all things Braves discussed Pastornicky’s replacement in Andrelton Simmons and why he’s needed in Atlanta right now. He was spot on in his assessment, so no questions there. However, the comments section included this gem worth discussing in greater length.

Although I think the Braves are a well run organization, opening camp with Pastornicky was deeply flawed and had too much of a “wait and see” approach. Old School evaluations like “makeup” (son of a major leaguer) and batting average (with a ridiculous .398 BABIP in his brief and only AAA appearance last year) thrust Pastornicky in a role he is not and likely will not be suited for.

For starters, the Braves organization had little-to-no money to work with this past off-season as exemplified by the Derek Lowe deal to free up a win’s worth of salary space when the sinker specialist was likely to produce at levels near his salary number. Additionally, the Braves purged another half dozen veterans from the roster while signing only a pair of inexpensive bench pieces in Jack Wilson (as a backup to Pastornicky) and Eric Hinske. In all, the Braves brought their payroll down approximately 4.5 million dollars over the previous year.

Conversely, aging shortstops in Jimmy Rollins and Rafael Furcal landed multi-year deals averaging between eight and 11 million dollars annually with 38-year old Jamey Carroll receiving more per season than both Braves major league roster signings combined. To say the organization acted in a deeply flawed manner is to assume the Braves had an interest in being a player in the shortstop market to begin with. Based on their off-season moves, that assumption simply has no basis in fact.

For me, the Braves organization acted both fiscally and developmentally responsible by playing Pastornicky to start the season. In essence, Pastornicky is not going to block a better defensive shortstop such as Simmons from overtaking him at the position. At the same time, a multi-year commitment to any shortstop in an attempt to win now when an unquestioned plus defensive shortstop is present and producing at the minor league level can create a situation where already limited resources are not utilized to the maximum. In this case, regardless of results, playing Pastornicky at a minimum salary when his upside was unlikely to be affected whether he produced or not was the correct call.

Of course the argument against this is Pastornicky is only 22 and must have room for additional growth due to minor league production, age-versus-level and how far away he is from his prime. However, few, if any would refute Pastornicky being a player whose present skills trump tools which are really the driving force behind future projection.

In taking one for the team, Pastornicky bought Simmons an additional 200 plate appearances at the Double-A level which seems relatively insignificant on the surface, but went a long way in showing the top prospect was ready for Atlanta. This season, Simmons’ numbers in Mississippi weren’t nearly as hollow as in 2011 as a 10% walk rate and better isolated power leave at least a glimmer of hope he will not be completely overwhelmed at the major league level. Of course defense is Simmons’ trademark, but his strong start with the bat has likely calmed any fears within the organization of his being thrown into the proverbial fire stunting his offensive growth.

Regardless of his struggles and Atlanta’s current place in the standings, the Braves decision to play Pastornicky was not a total loss when reflecting on the current state of the organization as a whole. As for Pastornicky, Mark Anderson reported a scout compared the shortstop to Willie Bloomquist in a previous piece. And for as nondescript as Bloomquist has been during a 1.4 WAR career spanning 2,601 plate appearances entering today’s action, a utility skill set with the ability to fill in at shortstop has led to a major league career spanning 11-years and counting. I suspect Tyler Pastornicky would be okay with that.