Archive for Braves

FanGraphs Audio: Dan Szymborski Analyzes All the Postseason

Episode 839
Dan Szymborski is the progenitor of the ZiPS projection system and a senior writer for FanGraphs dot com. He’s also the guest on this edition of the program, during which he examines which managers have produced the best performances of the postseason. Also: Szymborski’s argument for playing Matt Kemp at shortstop. And: a status update on the forthcoming projections for 2019.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 49 min play time.)

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FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 4

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 4
This is the fourth episode of a weekly program co-hosted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel about player evaluation in all its forms. The show, which is available through the normal FanGraphs Audio feed, has a working name but barely. The show is not all prospect stuff, but there is plenty of that, as the hosts are Prospect Men. Below are some timestamps to make listening and navigation easier.

0:25 – What the guys have been up to

1:34 – TOPIC ONE: Playoff Thoughts with Jack Handey

2:14 – Plans ahead for eliminated teams

2:20 – Colorado Rockies: which prospects are ready, players headed to free agency or one year away, what sort of moves do they make given their competitive situation, featuring Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Brendan Rodgers, German Marquez, Garrett Hampson

8:34 – Atlanta Braves: the various ways to approach this offseason, featuring Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, Johan Camargo, J.T. Realmuto, A.J. Pollock, Bryce Harper

14:05 – Who is the NL East favorite in 2019?

16:43 – Cleveland Indians: solving the big holes in the outfield, building on the rock solid rotation, possibly trading from the strength of elite international program

20:50 – Breaking down how Cleveland fell short in the series vs. Houston, including Kiley’s thoughts about an article from The Athletic

24:24 – We make ill-advised World Series picks

25:34 – TOPIC TWO: The Mesa brothers + Sandy Gaston workout

28:30 – Kiley’s adventure in Miami and why this even was different than other open Cuban workouts

30:42 – Eric gives his take and we get into the FBI investigation

36:48 – Does an international draft solve some of these problems? Will the FBI investigation impact the next CBA? What’s the track record of MLB and the player association fixing these sorts of issues?

43:56 – TOPIC THREE: The Kyler Murray intrigue is increasing!

44:18 – Eric usurps Mel Kiper’s draft coverage hair throne

44:50 – Eric is steamed at the football draft illuminati

50:26 – Cal quarterback/center fielder Brandon McIlwain is back on the radar in both sports

51:20 – Kiley has some beef about Kyler Murray as well

53:22 – The guys audition to be football scouts, finding some similarities with baseball

1:00:45 – Eric has to leave to go have his mind blown by Forrest Whitley

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @kileymcd or @longenhagen on Twitter or at

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 1 min play time.)

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Job Postings: Braves R&D and Baseball Operations

Please note, this posting contains three positions.

Position: Atlanta Braves R&D Developer Trainee

Location: Atlanta, GA


The R&D Developer Trainee position emphasizes software and web development as it relates to the Baseball Operations department. The trainee’s main responsibilities will be to assist the R&D department with building proprietary applications for displaying baseball information and visualizations, maintaining existing information management systems, and developing additional productivity tools to aid in Baseball Operations decision making. Candidates must have proven experience with application and/or web development, with interest in baseball and sports analytics research as a strong plus. The position will report to Assistant General Manager, Research and Development.

Note: Applicants for full-season R&D Developer Trainee positions (Jan-Nov), and summer R&D Developer Intern positions (May-Aug) will be considered.


  • Assist in the development and maintenance of all proprietary software used within the Baseball Operations department.
  • Work with department stakeholders to develop, deploy and test applications within IT best practice parameters.
  • Build relationships, communicate effectively, and gather feedback from Baseball Operations staff to build new platforms and improve existing systems.
  • Perform other duties as assigned.

Required Qualifications:

  • Past or expected BA or BS in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, or related technical field of study or equivalent work experience.
  • Demonstrated software development experience in one or more programming languages: Java, .NET, Python, Flask, Javascript, AngularJS, C#, C/C++.
  • Familiarity with database technologies and SQL. Microsoft SQL Server experience is a plus.
  • Ability to learn new technologies, including new coding languages.
  • Strong work ethic, initiative, and the ability to solve technical problems.
  • Ability to work flexible hours, including some nights and weekends as dictated by the Major League season.
  • Must complete a successful background check.

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Knowledge of current baseball statistics and analytics used in player evaluation a plus
  • Experience with data visualization a plus.
  • Web development experience, especially with JavaScript, Angular JS, or Python Flask
  • Experience with big data techniques.
  • Demonstrated software development work product.
  • Collegiate or other baseball playing experience.

To Apply:
If you are interested, please email your resume and any other materials to

Position: Atlanta Braves R&D Analyst Trainee

Location: Atlanta, GA

The R&D Analyst Trainee will assist Baseball Operations decision-making through the analysis and research of baseball information. The day-to-day responsibilities of this position will revolve around using data analysis to provide insight into player evaluation, performance projection, roster construction, and all other facets of baseball operations decision making, with emphasis on different sub-departments depending on the baseball calendar and needs of the department. The position will report to Assistant General Manager, Research and Development.

Note: Applicants for full-season R&D Analyst Trainee (Jan-Nov), and summer R&D Analyst Intern (May-Aug) positions will be considered.


  • Perform advanced statistical analysis on large datasets in order to assist in the decision-making of the Baseball Operations department.
  • Develop software, databases, models, applications, reports, and other information systems to increase efficiency of the Baseball Operations department.
  • Perform ad-hoc research projects as requested and present results in a concise manner.

Required Qualifications:

  • Strong foundation in the application of statistical concepts to baseball data, including familiarity with current state of baseball research.
  • Experience with SQL and relational databases.
  • Experience with statistical modeling software (R or Python preferred).
  • Ability to communicate concepts to individuals with diverse baseball backgrounds, including coaches, scouts and executives.
  • Ability to work flexible hours, including some nights and weekends as dictated by the Major League season.
  • Must complete a successful background check.

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Extensive experience with statistical modeling and prediction techniques, including regression, classification, and machine learning.
  • Web development experience, especially with JavaScript, Angular JS, or Python Flask.
  • Experience with at least one scripting language (e.g. Python, Ruby, Perl).
  • Experience with big data techniques a plus.
  • Demonstrated baseball or other sports analytics research work product.
  • Ability and desire to learn other programming languages as needed.
  • Collegiate or other baseball playing experience.

To Apply:
If you are interested, please email your resume and any other materials to

Position: Major League Operations Analyst

Location: Atlanta, GA

Support the Major League Operations group through the creation of tools for displaying and disseminating data, statistics, and other baseball-related information. The ideal candidate has a strong technical background and can work independently on self-contained projects, as well as an understanding of baseball research concepts and modern gameplay strategies. This position will report to the Director of Major League Operations.


  • Develop tools and visualizations for disseminating statistical concepts.
  • Conduct research projects for the Major League Operations group.
  • Help build database and reporting infrastructure to support Major League advance report and coaching staff needs.
  • Summarize project results in succinct, actionable format and present findings to the group.
  • Work on Major League advance scouting process.


  • Demonstrated track record as self-starter through independently-produced projects and/or writing (via online publication, etc.).
  • Strong foundation in the application of statistical concepts to baseball data and the translation of data into actionable baseball recommendations.

Required Qualifications:

  • Advanced-level capabilities in R and SQL.

Strongly Preferred Qualifications:

  • Experience with at least one scripting language (e.g. Python, Ruby, Perl) and web development experience with Python Flask.
  • Demonstrable independent research (published or unpublished) using publicly available datasets (i.e. PITCHf/x, Statcast, etc).

January 2019 for calendar year. Depending on candidate qualifications position may be an internship or full-time.

To Apply:
Please email relevant materials, research, and resume to

The Two Rookies Who Drive the Braves’ Bullpen

This past Saturday, the Braves defeated the Phillies by a score of 5-3, earning their 87th win on the season and clinching the National League East title. Needless to say, this was unexpected back in March, when the Braves entered the year with a 3.2% chance of reaching the playoffs. Then again, there were a lot of unexpected developments in Atlanta this year. It was clear entering the season, for example, that Ronald Acuna possessed considerable talent; it was less obvious, however, that he’d become one of baseball’s best so soon. It was perhaps even more unlikely that a 34-year-old Nick Markakis would earn his first All-Star selection, although that happened as well. The list of surprises goes on. Johan Camargo, Mike Foltynewicz, and Anibal Sanchez: each of these actors played an important role in the Braves’ early arrival on the national stage.

Now the minds of both fans and the players themselves turn to October baseball. While there are some legitimate reasons to regard the Braves as a long shot — the Astros, the Dodgers, the Indians, the Red Sox, you get the idea — they do still have a 2.9% chance of winning the World Series. Throw in the fact that playoff baseball can be especially random, and we could be sitting here in a month lauding World Series MVP Kevin Gausman.

The Braves do enter October with questions beyond their youth. Most of these questions relate to their pitching, especially their bullpen. In terms of both run prevention (19th in adjusted ERA) and peripherals (18th in adjusted FIP), the relief corps has been middling. The midseason acquisitions of Brad Brach and Jonny Venters for international bonus money have yielded some returns, as the two veterans have put up a combined 0.8 WAR. However, if the Braves hope to slow down baseball’s best offenses in the late innings, they’ll be relying on two rookies with very similar arsenals.

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Ronald Acuna Is One of the Best Players in Baseball

The Braves have won plenty of games, and Ronald Acuna has hit plenty of homers. A common analytical writer trick is to open with an anecdote, to suck readers in before hitting them with statistics. I am a common analytical writer, but for this intro I want to focus on a Ronald Acuna single, leading off a game the Braves lost. And honestly, I don’t even care so much about the single itself. The Braves lost to the Cardinals on Monday. Acuna led off the bottom of the first with a ground-ball single off Miles Mikolas. The ball was hit well enough, but to understand what Acuna has already become, it’s most important to look at the process.

Acuna took a first-pitch strike. Happens sometimes. Especially leading off games. Mikolas throws an awful lot of strikes. Acuna was behind 0-and-1, but then he took a close fastball for a ball.

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How Culberson Became “Charlie Clutch” in Atlanta

Charlie Culberson isn’t enamored of the nickname he’s picked up this season. Complimentary as it may be, it’s a bit much for a humble utility player from Calhoun, Georgia — especially one who knows that the idea of “clutch” has largely been debunked. Which isn’t to say he’s been irrationally dubbed.

His overall numbers this year are solid, but they’re nothing to write home about. In 287 plate appearances, Culberson is slashing .280/.330/.494. It’s his flair for heroics that has led to the sobriquet “Charlie Clutch.”

“I had the couple of walk-off homers back in May and June, and people just kind of ran with that,” explained Culberson, who is in his first season with the Atlanta Braves. “It sounds good — it works well with the two Cs — but it’s not something I would give myself. I think you’re going to come off as a little conceited if you put ‘clutch’ next to your name. And if you think about it, it’s kind of a pressure thing. ‘Clutch’ is a pretty strong word, especially in sports.”

I pointed out to Culberson that the walk-off bombs aren’t the only impactful hits he’s had this season. In 71 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he’s slashed a healthy .375/.437/.641. With two outs and runners in scoring position, those numbers — in a small sample size of 32 chances — are a stupendous .464/.559/.786.

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Sunday Notes: Bobby Wilson is a Soldier Who Has Seen Pitching Evolve

Bobby Wilson has caught for 16 seasons — nine of them at the big league level — so he knows pitching like the back of his hand. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball. With a .577 OPS in exactly 1,000 MLB plate appearances, the 35-year-old hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut. But his stick isn’t why the Chicago Cubs acquired him from the Minnesota Twins this past Thursday. They picked him up for his receiving skills and his ability to work with a staff.

The quality and style of pitching he’s seeing today aren’t the same as what they were when he inked his first professional contract in 2002.

“The game is ever evolving, ever changing,” Wilson told me a few weeks ago. “I’ve seen it go from more sinker-slider to elevated fastballs with a curveball off of that. But what really stands out is the spike in velocity. There’s almost no one in this league right now who is a comfortable at bat.”

In his opinion, increased octane has made a marked impact on how hitters are being attacked.

“If you have velocity, you can miss spots a little more frequently, whereas before you had to pitch,” opined Wilson. “You can’t miss spots throwing 88-90. If you’re 95-100 , you can miss your location and still have a chance of missing a barrel. Even without a lot of movement. Because of that, a lot of guys are going to four-seam, straight fastballs that are elevated, instead of a ball that’s sinking.”

But as the veteran catcher said, the game is ever evolving. He’s now starting to see more high heat in the nether regions of the zone, as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Strength of Schedule and the Pennant Races

No team plays a completely balanced scheduled over the course of a season. Some divisions, naturally, are better than others. Because intradivisional games account for roughly 40% of the league schedule, there is necessarily some irregularity in the strength of competition from club to club. Interleague play, which represents another 10% of games, also contributes to this imbalance. Given the sheer numbers of games in a major-league campaign, the effect of scheduling ultimately isn’t a major difference-maker. Talent and luck have much more influence over a club’s win-loss record. In any given month, however, scheduling imbalances can become much more pronounced.

Consider this: at the beginning of the season, just one team featured a projected gain or loss as large as three wins due to scheduling. The Texas Rangers were expected to lose three more games than their talent would otherwise dictate. Right now, however, there are eight teams with bigger prorated schedule swings than the one the Rangers saw at the beginning of the season — and those swings could have a big impact on the remaining pennant races.

To provide some backdrop, the chart below ranks the league’s schedules, toughest to easiest, compared to an even .500 schedule.

The Diamondbacks have a pretty rough go of it. Outside of five games against the Padres, the other “worst” team they play is the San Francisco Giants. They have one series each against the division-leading Astros, Braves, and Cubs along with a pair of series against both the Dodgers and Rockies. If Arizona were chasing these teams for the division or Wild Card, their schedule would present them with a good opportunity for making up ground. Given their current status, however, it just means a lot of tough games down the stretch.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/16/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Bryse Wilson, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Level: Triple-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45+
Line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 13 K

Bryse Wilson touched 97 several times last night and sat 93-95 late in the outing. He pounded the zone with his fastball (72 of 98 pitches were for strikes) and blew it past several hitters up above the strike zone. His slider (mostly 83-85, though he lollipops some slower ones into the zone for first-pitch strikes) flashes plus but is mostly average and is only capable of missing bats when it’s out of the zone. Wilson’s changeup is fringey and firm, without much bat-missing movement, but the velocity separation off of the fastball is enough to keep hitters from squaring it up, and it’s going to be an effective pitch. The entire package (Wilson’s physicality and stuff) looks very similar to Michael Fulmer and Wilson’s delivery is much more graceful and fluid than it was when he was in high school, when scouts thought it would impact his ability to command the fastball and possibly move him to the bullpen.

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No One Can Ambush Quite Like the Braves

The Braves won again on Tuesday, extending their lead in the NL East to two games. And now, there’s nothing especially remarkable about beating the Marlins at home, but for me, it’s more about how the Marlins were defeated. Trevor Richards took the mound, after a scoreless top of the first. His first pitch was thrown to Ronald Acuna Jr.

Acuna hit a home run. He’s been doing a lot of that. Just after TV came back from instant replay, Richards threw his second pitch, to Charlie Culberson.

Culberson also hit a home run. Short of sustaining some kind of injury, Richards’ first two pitches couldn’t have gone any worse. They both turned into the worst possible outcome, and there was something symbolic in that. Not so much as far as Richards is concerned. It’s more about the Braves, and how they’ve been hitting. The Braves this year have been more than happy to jump on the first pitch. They ambushed Richards on Tuesday, and that wasn’t the end of it.

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Ronald Acuña Is Making History

Braves rookie Ronald Acuña has been on a tear lately. On Monday against the Marlins in Atlanta, the 20-year-old phenom did something that only three other players have done in over a century: lead off both games of a doubleheader with a home run. In the opener on Monday afternoon, the makeup of an August 1 rainout, Acuña clubbed Miami starter Pablo López’s fifth pitch of the game, a center-cut 93 mph four-seamer, an estimated 414 feet to center field:

Acuña later added a two-run double in that contest, which Braves went on to win, 9-1. In the nightcap, he hit the first pitch of Merandy Gonzalez’s first start, also a well-centered 93 mph four-seamer (jeez, kid, watch the tapes) an estimated 441 feet to center:

The Braves took that one as well, 6-1. With that pair of homers, Acuna etched himself in the record books:

Leadoff Homers in Both Games of Doubleheader
Player Team Opponent Date
Harry Hooper Red Sox Senators 5/30/1913
Rickey Henderson A’s Indians 7/5/1993
Brady Anderson Orioles White Sox 8/21/1999
Ronald Acuña Braves Marlins 8/13/2018

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The One Thing Freddie Freeman Does Better Than Everyone

If you haven’t heard, Freddie Freeman is good at baseball. He’s currently second among first basemen by WAR and wRC+, behind only Matt Carpenter in each case. Since 2016, he’s recorded a 150 wRC+, good for sixth-best in baseball over that span. Nor is his more recent success unprecedented. Freeman ranks 29th in career WAR for active hitters, with only five players having produced a greater WAR figure than him (30.0) in fewer plate appearances (4,793): Josh Donaldson (35.6 and 3,757), Paul Goldschmidt (34.8 and 4,521), Mike Trout (62.6 and 4,547), Giancarlo Stanton (37.7 and 4,613), and Buster Posey (39.1 and 4,658). (All numbers current as of Wednesday.)

This news isn’t exactly earth-shattering for anyone who frequents the pages of FanGraphs. We have known this since Freeman’s breakout season in 2013. Despite that, however, it seems like there’s an increase in Freddie Freeman appreciation recently. Some of this is likely due to the fact that the Braves are — somewhat unexpectedly — fighting for a playoff spot. The Home Run Derby also helped his nationwide notability, even if he didn’t perform particularly well. Google seems to confirm the newfound recognition, as Freddie Freeman searches are up notably the past two years.

As noted, though, Freeman has been an extraordinary talent for a while now. He hits for average and power, is a good fielder (he ranks third in UZR for first basemen since 2013), and is a good runner for a first baseman (fourth-most baserunning runs since 2015). However, to add to all these skills, there is one thing that Freeman does better than anyone else in baseball, and it’s this one thing that helps put him in position to succeed.

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Atlanta Is Betting on Kevin Gausman’s Upside

With the non-waiver trade deadline having passed — and, with it, all the sorts of analysis produced by sites like this one — it seems like a good moment to recognize what is sometimes missed in the rush to judge the merits of each trade for the two (or three or more) teams involved. Because, while it’s certainly logical to evaluate a trade based on the talents of the players changing hands, what’s sometimes overlooked is that “talent” isn’t static. Indeed, sometimes a club acquires a player not merely for what he has done but also for what, with some minor alterations, he could do.

For instance, after last summer’s trade deadline, the Dodgers got more out of Yu Darvish after pointing out to the pitcher some better ways in which to employ his arsenal. Gerrit Cole has made dramatic improvements with the Astros this season (as did Justin Verlander following his move to Houston). Corey Dickerson, meanwhile, has become a much more effective hitter in Pittsburgh.

From an L.A. Times story about what the Dodgers asked Darvish to do last August:

At the team hotel in Manhattan, Darvish met with general manager Farhan Zaidi, who advised him on how to attack that night’s hitters. Zaidi opened a laptop and revealed how Darvish could optimize his arsenal, altering the locations and pitch sequences he utilized during five seasons with Texas.

With major league players, teams aren’t just trading for recent history of performance and present skills of a player, they are digging in and seeing where they might be able to help a player improve. Read the rest of this entry »

Braves Add Gaus to Sputtering Rotation

For as pitching-rich as the Braves may be, they could not afford to stand pat at the non-waiver trade deadline, particularly given the recent struggles of their rotation, the uncharted territory towards which their top starters are heading innings-wise, and a 31-games-in-31-days stretch that has only just begun. On Tuesday afternoon, they dealt four prospects and $2.5 million in international signing bonus slot money to the Orioles in exchange for 27-year-old righty starter Kevin Gausman and 35-year-old righty reliever Darren O’Day It’s the second deal in three days between the two teams, following Atlanta’s acquisition of 32-year-old righty reliever Brad Brach, also in exchange for slot money.

At 56-47, the Braves entered Tuesday half a game back in both the NL East (behind the Phillies) and the Wild Card races (behind the D-backs, .001 ahead of the Rockies). They’ve generally gotten good work from their starters this year, at least in terms of ERA, as the rotation ranks third in the NL (3.68). They’re a shakier eighth in FIP (4.19), with a gaudy 9.8% walk rate, the league’s second-worst. The team’s 9-13 record this month owes plenty to the unit’s recent struggles; their 4.90 ERA and 4.95 FIP in July both rank in the bottom third of the league.

All of that has been a problem, but if the Braves stay In This Thing, they’ll have another:

Braves Starters’ 2018 Performance and 2017 Innings
Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP WAR 2018 IP 2017 IP
Kevin Gausman 21 124.0 4.43 4.58 1.3 124.0 186.2
Sean Newcomb 21 119.2 3.23 4.05 1.5 119.2 157.2
Julio Teheran 21 115.0 4.46 5.33 -0.1 115.0 188.1
Mike Foltynewicz 20 112.1 3.04 3.54 2.2 112.1 154.0
Brandon McCarthy* 15 78.2 4.92 4.79 0.2 78.2 100.1
Anibal Sanchez 13 75.0 3.12 3.93 1.0 81.2 125.0
Michael Soroka* 5 25.2 3.51 2.85 0.6 66.1 153.2
Max Fried 4 19.2 2.75 2.91 0.5 80.0 144.2
Matt Wisler 3 17.1 3.63 4.03 0.2 96.2 126.0
Luiz Gohara 1 4.0 4.5 3.16 0.1 68.1 153.0
* = disabled list.
2017 and 2018 innings totals include all roles and all leagues for regular season and postseason.

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Atlanta Acquires Kevin Gausman

The Baltimore Orioles continued their suddenly aggressive rebuild this afternoon, trading Kevin Gausman and an injured Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves for a RHP Evan Phillips, INF Jean Carlos Encarnación, C Brett Cumberland, LHP Bruce Zimmermann, and international bonus-slot money. A year ago, the Orioles still thought they were a contender and the Braves were still rebuilding, but with the Braves a half-game out of first in the NL East and Orioles a nearly striking 42 games out in the AL East, those positions have clearly flipped.

Twenty years ago, I’d have been sad to see Kevin Gausman leave Baltimore. But at some point between when I enjoyed baseball as a teenager and enjoyed baseball as someone covering it for a career, my relationship with the game changed. I’m from Baltimore, grew up an Orioles fan, and still identify one, but the truth is, I’m a fan of players before I am a fan of teams. At this point, I’d much rather see Kevin Gausman succeed anywhere else — even with the Yankees — than struggle or even just be a league-average starter as an Oriole, even if someday he were to throw a game for another team that ends an O’s season.

Gausman is not an ace pitcher, though he shows glimpses of it at times, which is why he’s simultaneously maddening and fascinating. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, when he’d average 99 mph over full games at times, but he’s also been trying to take a few ticks off his pitches to try and improve his command, which occasionally failed him in 2017. Many, including myself, were hopeful after Gausman’s 9.6 K/9, 3.41 ERA second-half last year (7.7, 5.85 in the first-half), but the same kind of frustrating inconsistency has continued. He still has a mid-90s fastball that can touch something even higher than that, a slider, a splitter that can make hitters look helpless when he’s hitting his locations, and a slider of varying quality.

The FanGraphs Depth Charts have the Braves with the 17th-ranked starting rotation, in terms of rest-of-season projections. While the ZiPS projections are more optimistic, pegging Atlanta at 13th, that’s still a rotation that could use an upgrade. Gausman has the potential to pay off well for Atlanta if the team can figure out what they can do with him that the Orioles never could figure out, similar to the Cubs and Jake Arrieta. With Gausman not set to become a free agent until after the 2020 season, his move to Atlanta could pay off extremely well for the team in the best-case scenario, something you couldn’t say if he were simply a two-month down-the-stretch rental.

More to come from us on the prospects later!

Braves Add Adam Duvall for the Long-Term(?)

Forget the intro! Let’s just get right to it. The Braves and Reds made a trade. This is what it is:

Braves get:

Reds get:

At first, it doesn’t seem like very much. Sims and Wisler might still have some name value, yes. But their stocks are diminished. And while Duvall has his uses, the Braves’ outfield is currently occupied by Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis. Pretty good players, all of them, and we usually don’t grant much attention to additions to a bench. This doesn’t appear to be a move to dwell on for very long.

I’m not going to convince you that this is a major trade. It isn’t. But I can at least try to explain some layers. Firstly, for the Braves, this allows for something of a platoon. Duvall bats righty, and hits well against lefties. Inciarte doesn’t, and doesn’t. And by any metric you look at, Duvall is one of the better defensive left fielders around, so now with a southpaw on the mound, Duvall can handle left, with Acuna sliding over to the middle. The Braves are just improving their versatility, here. They’re addressing a minor weakness.

And then, although Duvall turns 30 in just over a month, he’s still under club control through 2021, with three years of arbitration. His wRC+ is a paltry 82, but his career mark is 96, and according to Baseball Savant’s expected wOBA metric, Duvall this year has been particularly unlucky. Markakis’ contract is up after the year. Duvall could be seen as a longer-term outfield option. This doesn’t lock the Braves into anything, but at the very least it gives them a safety net.

I don’t know how many near-30-year-olds should realistically be considered longer-term options, but Duvall’s defense has held up, which says good things about his current athleticism. And if you ask the Braves, they’re not losing anything here they had a plan for. Tucker is just a guy the Reds can use to plug into their Duvall-shaped vacancy. He’s a fourth outfielder, on his better days. Wisler has a career big-league ERA- of 129. Sims has a career big-league ERA- of 140. They’d all but been erased from the Braves’ organizational blueprint.

From the Reds’ perspective, it’s a trade for pedigree. Sims is 24, and he was once Baseball America’s No. 57 overall prospect. Wisler is 25, and he was once BA’s No. 34 overall prospect. They’ll now join previous top-100 pitching prospects like Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and Robert Stephenson. To say nothing of other pitching talent the Reds have had better luck developing. Duvall had a place in Cincinnati, but not as a part of any competitive core. They’re hoping that at least one or two more young pitchers will emerge to join Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle.

Neither Sims nor Wisler has been good in the majors. The Reds might not be able to figure out why. But Sims, at least, continues to look pretty good as a Triple-A starter, and Wisler, to his credit, has improved his Triple-A contact rate by eight percentage points. For the Braves, Sims and Wisler have been disappointments. For the Reds, they’re providing a new opportunity. A change of scenery, a blank slate, a potentially whole new set of instructions. It’s a roll of the dice on two interesting arms. It’s conceivable that either or both pitchers could play a big-league role in 2019.

The Reds need to prove they can develop pitching, because they aren’t devoid of talent. It’s the rotation(s) that’s held the Reds out of the race(s), and they want to put that behind them. The Braves are happy to let the Reds experiment, because they ran just about out of patience. A new wave of pitchers is cresting in Atlanta, so they’re not so concerned with the waves that came before. The Reds might’ve spotted a post-hype opportunity. The burden is on them to turn opportunity into value, where another club wasn’t successful.

Daily Prospect Notes: 7/26/18

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Gabriel Maciel, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 18   FV: 40
Line: 2-for-4, 2B

The 19-year-old Brazilian has hit in every July game in which he’s played and is riding an 18-game streak, including multi-hit games in eight of his past 10. Maciel was hitting .249/.336/.305 on July 1 and is now at .291/.367/.338. He’s a plus-plus running center fielder with very limited physicality, but he understands what his offensive approach has to be to reach base and he has played well-executed small-ball throughout his pro career. There’s risk that this style of hitting won’t play against better defenses and that Maciel winds up as a bench outfielder.

Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 9   FV: 45+
Line: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 12 K

This was the best start of Cease’s career. He has posted a 10% walk rate since being acquired by the White Sox, while big-league average is about 8%. Cease is a pretty strong candidate for late-blooming fastball command. He missed a year of development due to a surgery and will receive every opportunity to work with different coaches and orgs throughout his career as long as he throws as hard as he does. It might click at any time. But for now it’s realistic to assume that when Cease debuts in the next year or so he’ll probably be pitching with 40 control. Is there precedence for success among starting pitchers with a plus fastball, plus curveball, and a fringey collection of other stuff? Charlie Morton and German Marquez are two very encouraging examples, Sal Romano less so. Sean Newcomb looked like he’d have to be that guy but his changeup came along. It will take a pretty specific approach to pitching, but Cease should be fine with what he’s already working with.

Touki Toussaint, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 50
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 R, 8 K

You could apply much of what I just said regarding Cease to Touki, but we’re higher on Touki than Cease, ranking-wise, because his curveball is better, he hasn’t had a surgery, and he is a level ahead of Cease at the same age.

Hans Crouse, RHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 19   Org Rank: 8   FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 12 K

Crouse’s delivery looks weird and causes his fastball to play down a bit because he doesn’t get down the mound. While he had below-average fastball control when I saw him in the spring, he has just four walks combined in his past five starts for Spokane. Yet another plus fastball/breaking ball prospect with stuff nasty enough to overcome other issues.

Which Teams Could Even Trade for Lindor and Ramirez?

“Probably none,” is mostly the answer to the question posed in the title.
(Photo: Erik Drost)

Last week, I took up the mantle from Dave Cameron and published this site’s 11th annual Trade Value series. If you’re new to the concept, the Trade Value series represents an attempt to rank the most valuable assets in baseball, accounting for each player’s current skill level, age, and health while factoring in controllable years or contract status (with lots of advice from scouts and execs). Few, if any, of the players are likely to be traded in reality; however, the rankings represent an opportunity to see how the industry is and isn’t valuing players.

An unusual thing happened in this year’s series — namely, the top two spots in the rankings went to a pair teammates, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. By my reckoning, the combined eight years for which their contracts are controlled by Cleveland are worth around $385 million*. They’re incredibly valuable.

*To arrive at this figure, I used ZiPS projected WAR, projected dollar-per-WAR inflation, discounted values for years further into the future, and a linear concept of dollar-per-WAR. This is more of a ballpark number since clubs on either extreme of the payroll spectrum may value each win much more or less than the average team that’s assumed in this sort of calculation.

In the wake of this year’s edition, I began thinking: would any clubs have sufficient ammunition for Cleveland even to consider a possible trade of Lindor and Ramirez? As with the Trade Value series itself, this is mostly a hypothetical question. The Indians, as a contending club, have little incentive to deal two of the majors’ best players. Still, I was curious if any club could put together enough assets even to make it possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Ross Stripling is a Nerd and Jesse Chavez Couldn’t Get High in LA

When I approached Ross Stripling at the All-Star Game media session, I knew that he was in the midst of a breakthrough season. The 28-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander went into the midsummer classic with a record of 8-2, a 2.08 ERA, and a 10.2 K-rate in 95-and-a-third innings.

I didn’t know that he was a nerd.

“Are you taking about things like spin rate and spin efficiency? I’m a believer in that for sure,” was Stripling’s response when I asked if he ever talks pitching analytics with anyone in the organization. “When I got called up in 2016, I thought that what made me good was my high arm angle leading to good downward angle on my fastball, so I should pitch down in the zone. But I tried that, and I was getting walloped.”

Then came a conversation that jumpstarted his career. Optioned to the minors in midseason to help limit his workload — “I was basically down there sitting on innings” — Stripling picked up a ringing cell phone and was soon standing at rapt attention. The voice on the other end belonged to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Read the rest of this entry »